‘The Last Alchemist in Paris’ Takes a Tour of the Periodic Table


The Last Alchemist in Paris CoverThe Last Alchemist in Paris & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry takes a meandering path through the Periodic Table with Lars Öhrström serving as guide. Each chapter focuses on one element, providing some contemporary and historical tales of its use and delving into its structure: Protons, neutrons, electrons, possible chemical bonds.

There are tales of war and intrigue, of chicanery and genuine science, and some odd tidbits about the soil under Swedish barns, Agatha Christie’s coffee pot, and a man and his dog. Most of the tales are fascinating and truly relevant to the element’s place in history. Occasionally, Öhrström includes one that seems only tangentially related to the topic at hand: Fascinating, but only just relevant to the subject. In either case, the historical bits are enjoyable. He also shows an enjoyment of literature, which adds a welcome touch, even if he occasionally forgets to specify until later in the chapter that the person he is discussing is fictional—There are strange enough true tales that this is not self evident!

Öhrström’s explanations of atomic level structure are painstakingly thorough, including diagrams and carefully explained chemical equations. These can be enlightening, but they are also heavy going for someone whose last exposure to the periodic table was a high school chemistry class (a very good chemistry class, but long ago, all the same).

The Last Alchemist in Paris is recommended for those with more than a passing interest in science, people willing to take the time to slow down and follow the explanations provided with each equation and to appreciate Öhrström’s enjoyment of the elegance of chemistry drawing.

The Last Alchemist in Paris & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry is available now. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title.

Those interested in chemistry and alchemy may also enjoy:

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (Review here).

The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon’s Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged by Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite. Read our review here.


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