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Guardian Unlimited

Rebecca Rupp

Four Elements: Water, Air, Fire, Earth

There are now nearly 120 elements known, and these don't include water, air, fire or earth. But these original four still hold an important place in the history of science. Rebecca Rupp's book Four Elements uses them as the inspiration for a collection of essays, looking at science, history and a great deal more besides. Sometimes the connection is fairly straightforward, for instance ocean currents, geology and weather link directly to water, earth and air. For other subjects the path is more indirect, for instance air links to air-bourne molecules and so to perfumes and on to the measures taken in biblical times to keep secret the location of frankincense trees.

I did wonder whether a different layout might have been better. At the start chapters of up to 80 pages are somewhat intimidating - really it is best to consider each essay of about 3 pages as standing alone. They're the sort of articles of which you might get one each week in a magazine. But then I would think that alternating between the elements would be better than dealing with each separately. Anyway, if you can decide on a suitable way of reading these essays then you'll find that they're packed full of information (although not particularly useful information), and highly entertaining.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 320 pages  
ISBN: 1861972342
Salesrank: 3714498
Weight:1.32 lbs
Published: 2005 Profile Books Ltd
Marketplace:New from $42.65:Used from $2.95
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 384 pages  
ISBN: 1861972342
Salesrank: 1334897
Weight:1.32 lbs
Published: 2005 Profile Books
Marketplace:New from £90.17:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 320 pages  
ISBN: 1861972342
Salesrank: 2007643
Weight:1.32 lbs
Published: 2005 Profile Books Ltd
Amazon price CDN$ 163.17
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 115.56:Used from CDN$ 2.78
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Product Description
First, an introductory section presents Greek science and modern atomic theory, Aristotle and the periodic table. The substantial sections devoted to each elements range widely from creation myths and volcanoes to plate tectonics and the tides. And at the core of each is a wonderfully informative discussion of every aspect: thus in 'Water' she talks of drinking water and mineral water and thermal springs, of bathing and swimming (by humans and animals and fish), of snow and ice and refrigeration, of rain and hydrographics, of waves and the oceans. Finally, 'The elements are more than the useful shorthand of chemical equations. The four, in their symbolic aspect, are the romance at the heart of science.' From atomic theory to oxygen bars, from supervolcanoes to the anatomy of the candle, Four Elements is a multifaceted journey of discovery through the elements, real and symbolic, that shape our lives. No one will leave this book without feeling hugely enriched.