Some references on the chemistry of the elements

Being a hobby chemist becomes even more fun, when there is a certain understanding of the underlying concepts and structures, which are the basis of modern chemistry. It is very rewarding if this understanding is augmented with your own experimental observations. Having some basic understanding also allows you to see what is common and what is special. Even the home chemist still can discover interesting things, which are not known yet and which are not described in any textbook.

It is my opinion that simply experimenting without understanding is no fun, but it also increases the risks. With a good understanding of the properties of the elements and their most common compounds, one is capable of assessing the risks of certain experiments and taking sound decisions on how to perform the experiment.

My personal experience is that newer textbooks concentrate on the theoretical background of chemistry and that older textbooks are of a more descriptive nature. Having access to both kinds of books is very nice. The older textbooks often describe many compounds at large detail. This really is nice from an experimental point of view. The newer textbooks try to explain the observed phenomena and properties. Sometimes, this is more tedious, but when the ideas are grasped, then the information from the older textbooks is appreciated even more.

Below, a list of references is given. Some of these books may be present at antiquariats, the newer ones can be ordered at Amazon or any larger book store.

Shriver and Atkins, Inorganic Chemistry, third edition. This is a nice book, covering all elements at a moderately detailed level, but with a connection to theoretical insights. Properties of elements and compounds are explained, using theoretical insights from the last few decades as a basis.

Greenwood and Earnshaw, Chemistry of the Elements, second edition. This book covers the properties of all elements in great depth, with strong emphasis on coordination chemistry. This book mainly is of a descriptive nature, but where applicable, modern insights from theoretical chemistry are applied to explain the observed behavior of elements and their compounds. For the home chemist, some parts of this book are really interesting, but a lot of what is explained in this book also covers extremely rare and uncommon compounds, only accessible in very well equipped labs. For some people it may be interesting to read all about this, but one can imagine that much of the covered material only is of limited interest for the average home chemist.

Pauling, General Chemistry, Dover Edition. A nice "little" book, available at low cost from many book stores. This is a somewhat older book. The first edition of this book is from 1947, but it is continually revised and the Dover edition, a low-cost paperback edition, contains a reprint of the 1970 text. This book explains many theoretical concepts of chemistry in a remarkably clear way. These concepts are demonstrated by the chemistry of many elements and compounds. This book is not meant as a complete reference of all elements and their most common compounds, but it provides a sound basis for understanding the general principles of chemistry. A 'must' for the more serious hobby chemist.

The books, described below, also were important sources of information for me. Unfortunately they all are out of print. With some luck, they may be available at second-hand book shops and antiquariats.

Barry, Barnet and Wilson, Inorganic Chemistry, 6th impression, 1960. A very complete description of all known elements of that time and many of their properties. Many common compounds are described in detail, and some less common compounds (at that time, the large investigations on non-aqueous coordination chemistry were starting). This book also provides a fairly large amount of theoretical insight.

Holleman, Anorganische Chemie deel 1, 1920; Organische Chemie deel 2, 1905. This is a set of two books (in Dutch), which cover many common compounds in great detail. This set of books is most interesting because of the fact that they give a nice and accurate description of many common compounds, which also are available for the home chemist. From a theoretical point of view these books are less interesting, because most modern concepts, such as pH, orbitals and even the periodic table as we know it now, are not covered in this set of books. These concepts were being developed at the time of writing these books.

Ostwald, Grundlinien der Anorganische Chemie, IV. Auflage, 1919. Exceptionally well-written book, which covers all elements and many common compounds, known at that time in great detail. The author describes the compounds with remarkable precision and much of his information can be used as the basis of many experiments. It is nice to see how the observed properties of the elements and their compounds are described in this book. Elements are classified, purely on the basis of their observed properties, no mention is made of the periodic table of the elements. This sometimes leads to nowadays strange looking groupings of elements, such as (iron, cobalt, nickel), (tin, titanium, germanium, zirconium, thorium), (aluminium, scandium, yttrium, and a few of the lanthanoids) and (chromium, uranium, tungsten, molybdenum). Altogether, if you can obtain this book at a good price and you are able to read the German language, grab it.

Vanino, Präparative Chemie, zwei Bände: I. Band: Anorganischer Teil; II. Band: Organischer Teil, 1914. This is a set of two books (in German) with recipes for the preparation and purification of all kinds of chemicals from a fairly basic set of more common chemicals. This set of books does not give any theoretical background, it simply gives the recipes. The nice thing of this set of books is that it shows, what remarkable compounds can be made, even from common chemicals. Even if the recipes are not followed at home (many of them require quite some complex glasswork), they provide a nice basis for all kinds of experiments.


Besides the books, mentioned above, the Internet has been helpful as well. There are many sites out there, with nice experiments. Sites with good theoretical background are less abundant. If one wants to get some real understanding of the subject, then it is advised to get a good book. The information on Internet is not in an accessible condensed form. In order to get the great picture, one needs to take a snippet here and a snippet there.

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