Peter Atkins

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Peter Atkins, 2014

Peter William Atkins (born 10 August 1940) is an English chemist and former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics.


  • Chemistry is the science of matter and the changes it can undergo. The world of chemistry therefore embraces everything material around us—the stones we stand on, the food we eat, the flesh we are made of, and the silicon we build into computers. There is nothing material beyond the reach of chemistry, be it living or dead, vegetable or mineral, on Earth or in a distant star.
    • Peter Atkins and Loretta Jones, Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight, 4th ed. (2008)

Periodic Kingdom (1995)[edit]

Peter Atkins, The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements, 1995.

  • I have presented the periodic table as a kind of travel guide to an imaginary country, of which the elements are the various regions. This kingdom has a geography: the elements lie in particular juxtaposition to one another, and they are used to produce goods, much as a prairie produces wheat and a lake produces fish. It also has a history. Indeed, it has three kinds of history: the elements were discovered much as the lands of the world were discovered; the kingdom was mapped, just as the world was mapped, and the relative positions of the elements came to take on a great significance; and the elements have their own cosmic history, which can be traced back to the stars.
    • Preface
  • This is the kingdom of the chemical elements, the substances from which everything tangible is made. It is not an extensive country, for it consists of only a hundred or so regions (as we shall often term the elements), yet it accounts for everything material in our actual world. From the hundred elements that are at the center of our story, all planets, rocks, vegetation, and animals are made. These elements are the basis of the air, the oceans, and the Earth itself. We stand on the elements, we eat the elements, we are the elements. Because our brains are made up of elements, even our opinions are, in a sense, properties of the elements and hence inhabitants of the kingdom.
    • Chapter 1. The Terrain
  • The kingdom is not an amorphous jumble of regions, but a closely organized state in which the character of one region is close to that of its neighbor. There are few sharp boundaries. Rather, the landscape is largely characterized by transitions ...
    • Chapter 1. The Terrain
  • The general disposition of the land is one of metals in the west, giving way, as you travel eastward, to a varied landscape of nonmetals, which terminates in largely inert elements at the eastern shoreline. To the south of the mainland, there is an offshore island, which we shall call the Southern Island. It consists entirely of metals of subtly modulated personality. North of the mainland, situated rather like Iceland off the northwestern edge of Europe, lies a single, isolated region-hydrogen. This simple but gifted element is an essential outpost of the kingdom, for despite its simplicity it is rich in chemical personality. It is also the most abundant element in the universe and the fuel of the stars.
    • Chapter 1. The Terrain
  • It was a great achievement of the early chemists — with the crude experimental techniques available also with the ever-astonishing power of human reason (as potent then as now) — to discover this reduction of the world to its components, the chemical elements. Such reduction does not destroy its charm but adds understanding to sensation, and this understanding only deepens our delight.
    • p. 147-148

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