The book title is The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of The Chemical Elements. The book is part of science master book which is published in 1995, New York and consists of 194 pages. The book is short, quite easy to read, imaginative, and poetic. Even though the topic is chemical elements, but it can be considered for readers who don’t have a chemistry background.

Peter Atkins is well-known popular author in science, specially as a textbook author of Physical Chemistry. He is also a lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Oxford University and has research interests in quantum theory. In this book, Atkins brings the readers into the imaginary journey through the periodic table. He points out in this book that “the periodic table is arguably the most important concept in chemistry”. Therefore, this book provides the fundamental framework of chemical elements through imagination which can help the readers develop a meaningful understanding of both the concepts and practices.


The summary is divided into three paragraphs which represents three parts of the book: Geography, History, and Government and Institutions. These three parts complement each others to represent the kingdom of periodic table.

The concept of chemical elements, as arranges through a periodic table, is a fundamental concept in chemistry. However, the periodic table is not simply the list of chemical elements with different names and colors, but it is also the basis of every material in the world, such as water, air, plants, animals, and humans themselves. Starting the imaginative geographical journey, the periodic table is divided into different regions which represent different characteristics of elements from metal in the West to non metal in the East and inert elements at an Eastern Shoreline. Every element with their own personality contributes to the characteristics of regions in the periodic kingdom. Every region has their own products which is of crucial importance for natural and human life, for example ,Iron which can becomes steel is the foundation for most infrastructures in modern society and Phosphorus is one component of bone. However, there are few elements in the regions that have no applications and have not been explored by the nature and industry, such as Francium which is only comes in small quantities in the earth. The other reasons are human have not yet found the commercial value and radioactivity of these elements. Moreover, every region in the Kingdom not only has the differences on colors and products, but also the physical geography, such as the forms and the structure of atoms. The atoms of each element is distinguished by the diameter and mass which later on determine their characteristics on chemical reactions. This physical geography has shown connection between the location of regions and their properties.

Each element also has their own history of discovery as well as their own name. However, it is difficult to find the beginning history of discovery of many elements. Only few elements can be found in the earth in the native form, such as gold, copper, and sulfur. The advanced technology is also applied for the elements invention, for example, Humphrey Davy who invented Potassium and Sodium through electrolysis. Most of naming of elements depends on the characteristics or the recourses, such as calcium is present in lime (Latin of Lime is Calx). Some of elements have been named by the colours, such as iodine, from ioeides (violet) and by the smell, such as Bromine form bromos (stench). Most people didn’t give their own name to the elements, but few elements are named by using famous people name such as Einstenium (Albert Einstein). Currently, the name of elements is determined by the atom number through a scheme of nomenclature. The cartographers of the kingdom contribute to the arrangement of elements in the periodic table. The first cartographer, Johann Dobereiner identified a triad arrangement (three elements), where the atomic weigh of middle element was the arithmetic means of two outer elements. Then, Newlands invented the harmonies among elements in the eight steps (octaves) which is followed by Julius Lothar Meyer who found the varied periodically of atomic weight. Different from other cartographers, Dmitri Ivanovitch Mendeleev explored the elements from their chemical properties. Finally, the map of modern kingdom is arranged by the atomic weight which contributes to the number of proton, neutron, and electron. The arrangement of elements by atomic weigh also related to their chemical properties.

The government and institutions of the kingdom have the laws both interior and exterior. The laws of the interior consist of the rules for governing the structure of atoms which contribute to their properties. The inventions during the late nineteenth and twentieth century have greatly impacted on the internal structure of atoms which are based on quantum theory. Rutherford with his fundamental experiment, found the theory of nuclear atom. The atom consists of single and massive positive charge which is a nuclear and surroundings by the electrons. His student, Moseley succeeded to count this positive charge which is determined as the atomic number. Later on, based on this model, He found that this positively charge of particles also determined the proton of element. Each nucleus also consists of the number neutron which related to the mass of atom. This invention of atomic particles contributes to the properties of elements. The laws of exteriors govern the surrounding electrons which chemical reactions of elements rely on. The rules provide the information of possibility and the distribution of electron positions. In order to achieve a stable condition, electron involves a chemical reactions. Atoms of each element are held together through chemical bonding to create compounds. The principle of chemical bonds is determined by the characteristic of atom both interior (nucleus) and exterior (electron configuration).

In conclusion, each chemical element contributes to the characteristics of every region in the kingdom. Many scientists put a great effort into exploring the characteristics of chemical elements from different perspectives and experiments. Every element provides its own product, and is held together with other elements to create chemical compounds of all material in the world.

Interpretation and Analysis

Peter Atkins provides the essential concept in chemical elements through imaginative journey and poetic language which are really engaging. The idea of representing chemical elements in periodic table as a kingdom which are related each others is really interesting. Readers who used to read Peter Atkins Textbook, especially in Physical Chemistry, can be excited by is unique representations of chemistry in this book. Even though, Atkins pointed out that he provided the journey of periodic table for the readers who don’t have chemistry background, it needs chemistry knowledge to engage in the journey, especially for readers who have English as second language.

Atkins organizes the journey through three big parts: Geography, History, and Government and Institutions. Geography as part one consists of three chapters: the terrain, the products of regions, and physical geography. In this part, he explores the characteristics and uses of each element in every region. Chemical elements with their own characteristic from metal, non metal, transitions, and inert elements provide different landscape in the kingdom. The journey stimulates readers to imagine geography of elements by giving the rich descriptions of each region from West to East, from North to South. In this part, he assists readers to realize the importance of rules of chemical elements in every materials, natural process, and living organisms, especially human life. He used everyday language to describe the chemical elements and try to use simple descriptions of their physical geography. The second part (History) is divided into four chapters: the history of discovery, the naming of the regions, the origin of the land, and the cartographers. He used more in depth language to describe the history of the discovery the elements as well as the process of cartography. The rich information of discovery naming, and cartographers are given from Humphrey Davy to Ramsay, from simple nomenclature into IUPAC, from Dobereiner to Mendeleev. Readers with a background in chemistry will find a simple, interesting and imaginative way of presenting complex and rich information. For readers without a chemistry background, the authors provide the opportunity to use the depth of their imagination to make sense of it.

The last part (Government and Institutions) is divided into four chapters: the laws of the interior, the laws of the exterior, regional administration, and liaisons and alliances. He provides deeper information on the properties of chemical elements, the structural atom, quantum mechanics, the laws of electrons, the compounds, and the chemical bonding. These basic principles provide really valuable information and critical reflections for readers on understanding of chemistry concepts. Overall, Atkins provides integration information of basic concepts in chemistry in each part which helps readers to engage with his imaginative journey through poetic languages.

Implementation for Teaching and Learning Chemistry in Indonesia Context

In Indonesia, using this book as one of reading reference is really challenging, not only because of The language, but also the rigid curriculum that teachers and students have to deal with. However, the different approach of this book, by using poetic language and imaginary thinking, is really engaging. Mostly teachers and students heavily depend on chemistry textbooks as learning resources which provide similar patterns of information. Therefore, engaging students through reading this book could create meaningful learning experiences for students.

However, the level of using this book need to be considered for students, even though there is a new curriculum framework for chemistry that is starting to be taught in junior high school level (grade 7-9), it will be confusing for them rather than engaging. For high school students, this book will be useful for rich information of their chemistry knowledge which is really related to the curriculum. This table bellow shows the implementation of using Atkins book within chemistry teaching.

Table 1. Chemistry Curriculum for High School in Indonesia and it’s related with Peter Atkin’s Book



Sub Topic

Atkin’s Book (The Periodic Kingdom)


· Nomenclature

· The Structure of Atom, (Part One)

· Characteristics periodic atoms,

· Chemical bonding

· The Bohr model, etc

· Electron configurations

· Periodic tables

· Chemical bonding process (ion, covalent, etc.)

· Part one: the terrain, physical geography

· Part two: the naming of regions, the cartographers

· Part three: the laws of interior, liaisons and alliances


· The Structure of Atom (Part two)

· Periodic atoms

· Structure of molecules

· Quantum mechanics and periodic tables

· Hybridizations electrons

· Molecules bonding

Part three: the laws of exterior, regional administrations liaisons and alliances


Sources, characteristics and products of chemical elements

· Resources of chemical elements in the nature

· Physical and chemical properties of chemical elements

· The products of chemical elements (the uses and dangerous) in every day life

· Part one: The Terrain, the product of the regions

· Part two: the history of discovery

Source: Curriculum Centre, Department of National Education, 2008

For engaging students by using this book as a resource, teacher can use this tool bellow:

Example of Teaching Tool: Cross and Down Game






















  1. The main chemical element in DNA protein
  2. The number of elements arrangement using analogy of music by Newlands (latin)
  3. The scientist who found the nuclear atom (surname)
  4. The element which discovered by making use of distant nuclear fire, the sun
  5. The main elements in the Western Deserts
  6. The German Chemist who examined the correlation between the physical properties and atomic weight (surname)
  7. One of the triads elements which is arranged by Dobereiner
  8. Called for the elements which are not chemically active in coastal deserts of Kingdom
  9. The Australian Physics who enunciated the exclusion principle of electron orbital
  10. The metal element which is crucial importance to lift humanity from stone age to industrial revolution


  1. 25% of gases in the atmosphere
  2. The chemical compound for refrigerants which can deplete the ozone layer
  3. The very first element to be formed
  4. The scientist who found Potassium and Sodium
  5. The element is named because of the colour, green shout (Greek)
  6. One advance technology to discover the chemical elements
  7. The chemical bond which is an interaction between the ions that atom form
  8. A positively charged particle in atomic nucleus
  9. Vertical columns in periodic table
  10. The first enabling technology which drove compounds apart in ways.

Moreover, this book will be more essential for university students, especially for chemistry students in general and inorganic chemistry course. The basic concepts in this book will help the students develop a higher level of thinking in chemistry. Moreover, this book is a valuable and interesting chemistry reference which can engage and motivate students for learning chemistry. However, teachers, especially in Indonesia should use a creative approach in dealing with challenges of using this book as a teaching resource.


Curriculum Centre, Department of National Education. 2008. Chemistry Curriculum for Secondary High School Retrieved 10/08/2008.

2 thoughts on “Critical Analysis “The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into The Land Of The Chemical Elements’ By Peter Atkins”
  1. The Periodic Kingdom is a favorite of mine as well, I just finished recommending it to a friend who is a science teacher in 11th/12th grades. However, perfection is not given to anything in this world, and Atkins’ analysis has been questioned, fairly and respectfully by Scerri:

    I still recommend Atkins, along with Primo Levi’s magnificent “The Periodic Table”, at once an autobiography, an introduction to the elements and a sketch of the life of a professional chemist.

    Theodore Gray’s recent photo book of the elements makes good introductory material as well. My 8th grade son and his whole class have been pouring over it and I recognize some of the author’s voice in their new understanding. Gray’s work is more a photographic atlas of the actual elements, ores and applications, his data is primarily what you’d find in any Periodic Table poster. But his enthusiasm brings the data to life.


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