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Rocks are made up of many individual crystals, and each crystal is usually made up of at least several different chemical elements such as iron, magnesium, silicon, etc.Most of the elements in nature are stable and do not change.
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Radioactive atoms are like individual grains of sand--radioactive decays are like the falling of grains from the top to the bottom of the glass.
You cannot predict exactly when any one particular grain will get to the bottom, but you can predict from one time to the next how long the whole pile of sand takes to fall.
His Ph D thesis was on isotope ratios in meteorites, including surface exposure dating.
He was employed at Caltech's Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences at the time of writing the first edition.