Genre: Popular Science
Published: 3 February 2011
Publisher: Viking

Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements

Like the alphabet or the zodiac, the Periodic Table of the chemical elements is one of those graphic icons lodged permanently in our memories. But, aside from the handful that we run across daily, the elements themselves remain wrapped in mystery. We do not know what most of them look like, or how they arise in nature. We don’t know how they got their names, who discovered them, or of what use they are to us.

What we do often have is a set of rich cultural associations. We may know little about krypton, but we have all heard of kryptonite. The sodium colour of street lights floods dystopian London fiction. Titanium lends its toughness to the names of male grooming products. Neon illuminates Piccadilly Circus and zinc once lined the bars of Montmartre.

PERIODIC TALES is a popular science book that brings readers into direct contact with the fundamental building blocks of the universe. But it also reveals the intricate ways that the elements are woven into our culture, history and language, making it a unique and original bridge between science, literature and the arts – and bringing the iconic Periodic Table to life as never before.

"Science writing at its best... fascinating and beautiful... if only chemistry had been like this at school... to meander through the periodic table with him... is like going round a zoo with Gerald Durrell... a rich compilation of delicious tales, but it offers greater rewards, too" - Matt Ridley
"Immensely engaging and continually makes one sit up in ­surprise" - Sunday Times
"Splendid ... enjoyable and polished" - Observer
"Full of good stories and he knows how to tell them well... an agreeable jumble of anecdote, reflection and information" - Sunday Telegraph
"Great fun to read and an endless fund of unlikely and improbable anecdotes... sharp and often witty" - Financial Times
"A joyous romp through the chemical elements" - Today, BBC Radio 4
"Not only a cultural history of the elements, it is also a lament to the loss of science as a hobby" - Economist
"A flashily brainy book, crammed with literary references and held together by a personal quest to collect as many elements as possible" - Telegraph
"'Elements are fun' is the essential premise of Hugh Aldersey-Williams's new book and by heck he's right... Aldersey-Williams mourns the fact chemistry isn't really sexy any more; Periodic Tales is a step towards it getting its mojo back" - Metro ****