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The Shocking History of Phosphorus

John Emsley

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Pan

Published : 2000

Copyright : John Emsley 2000

ISBN-10 : PB 0-330-39005-8
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-330-39005-7

Publisher's Write-Up

Born of the age of alchemy and harbouring the mysterious influence that alchemists sought, phosphorus brought wealth to a few but misery to many. For over 300 years, phosphorus maimed, killed, polluted and burned - sometimes on a terrifying scale. Yet, such were its perceived benefits that doctors prescribed it, every home contained it, and whole industries were dedicated to its manufacture. Award winning author John Emsley's The Shocking History of Phosphorus is a compelling and unusual 'biography' told through the stories of the rich tableau of characters who have been involved with the element - and affected by it - during its fascinating lifetime of astounding, bizarre, and horrific events.

'An excellent and convincing read.'

Financial Times

'This well-written book is an enlightening examination of the very character of all chemicals.'

Sunday Telegraph

'John Emsley's luminous little book leaves a glow of warmth.'


'A well-crafted and exciting narrative.'

Times Literary Supplement
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chrissi (010202) Rating (8/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
This, I agree is not the most obvious subject on which to write a story, but you have to admit, it is a rather intriguing proposition. It's exactly as the title suggests, a history of the element Phosphorous, and a rather gross, grisly and macabre read it is, too.

It was discovered way back when, only the thirteenth element to be isolated. Well, they took it all rather too seriously, and because the way to get it was all rather gross, it was very expensive, but when someone suggested that it could prevent you from catching the plague, well... If you had the money, then you bought it, which in turn, made it even more expensive.

Through a rather warped logic, the physicians of the time decided that as amounts of phosphorous are found in the brain, then maybe it could cure any ailments, as well as maybe increasing brainpower. But it has never been proven to be of any benefit, and in spite of this it was found in brain tonics right into this century. The strange thing about this is that phosphorous is actually toxic to us, and so any improvement that you may have experienced was actually because you had stopped poisoning yourself with the stuff in the first place!

An excellent popular science title that on the surface sounds a bizarre subject for a book that isn't a chemistry text (unless you are a mad chemist of course). However, it reads very well and is most enjoyable... apart from the urine bits!
Chrissi (1st February 2002)

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