Friday, March 26, 2010

Hydrogen : The Essential Element

Book Review : Hydrogen : The Essential Element
Author : John Ridgen
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars
When I picked up this book, I was expecting a treatment more from the point of view of Chemistry than Physics. As it turned out, this book covers the role Hydrogen has played in theoretical physics with almost no mention of chemistry.

This is still an interesting premise. Hydrogen was formed in very early phases of creation of the universe and is still the most abundant element. Being the smallest element, with just one proton and one electron, many theories of atomic structure were tested against the hydrogen atom. So it's very fruitful to survey the history of Theoretical Physics with only hydrogen in mind.

In spite of this novel idea and good penmanship from John Ridgen, I came out a bit disappointed. It's most likely due to expectation mismatch. Ridgen focuses almost solely on 20th century physics. As interesting as this trip is, it gets very detailed at many places. From the introduction, we gather that Ridgen wrote a biography of physicist Rabi. This explains the detailed knowledge Ridgen has about that period in history. But overloading this book with exact dates and who said what to whom, distracted me. The plus side was the details about lab experiments that are often skipped by popular science books.

On the other hand, I would have loved to see more explanations of the theories. There is some discussion, but that's not enough as the focus seems to be on history.

It's a short book. I enjoyed it, but didn't learn a whole lot about science as I have from many other books on popular science. And all the historical trivia I read, was soon forgotten. If you read it with right expectations, you will enjoy it as well.

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