Book Review: Wonderful Life with the Elements (Bunpei Yorifuji)

In Wonderful Life with the Elements, the Japanese author (and artist) Bunpei Yorifuji takes you through all the chemical elements in a playful, entertaining, and very graphical way.

By representing each element as a cartoon character, mapping chemical features (such as atomic weight, state, special properties, …) onto human properties (body weight, hairstyle, clothes, …), and drawing the resulting characters in different (often humorous) situations, he illustrates the properties of each element, their history, and their use in every day life. Besides a detailed graphical description of each of the elements, the author also describes properties about the elements in general, discusses classifications, gives background on the periodic table, and puts everything into context.

The drawings (which make up most of this book) are original, funny, and very nicely done. Small things like the Japanese name and Chinese character for each element give it a nice aesthetic touch, but are of course completely useless for an ignorant westerner like me. I learned quite a few interesting facts about chemical elements, things I either forgot, or never knew at all. It feels like the cartoons and the element “personifications” should make these things stick, but I can’t say whether they will after just one read. Then again, if not, at least it will have been a very entertaining read, and I’ll be happy to read it again as a refresher.

My only (very minor) remarks are about the format. The PDF in which the eBook comes seems to be too tough to handle for some viewers: Preview.app choked on it and was missing graphics, but Acrobat Reader (and some built-in browser PDF viewers) seemed to display all graphics fine. Although the overall detail of the graphics throughout the book is good enough, the centerfold page (containing all the elements in the book in on one big poster, at least in the dead-tree version) is lacking in detail, and becomes ugly when you start zooming into the separate elements to the level you need to. This isn’t really a blocker though, since all elements are displayed on a full page illustration later, but it would have been nice to have more detail there (or have vector-based graphics throughout the whole book). And finally, the book isn’t hyperlinked at all, so you can’t navigate easily from e.g. the index or the table of contents to the corresponding pages in the book.

In summary, I really liked this book, and would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn (or refresh their knowledge) about the elements in a light and entertaining way.

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