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Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements by [Aldersey-Williams, Hugh]
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Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements Kindle Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Review

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 **** )

Imaginative and fun ... almost every page yields a nugget (Nature )

About the Author

Hugh Aldersey-Williams studied natural sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of several books exploring science, design and architecture and has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection. He lives in Norfolk with his wife and son.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2876 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Feb. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041455
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041452
  • ASIN: B004LLIHBI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #38,375 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Entertaining and informative, this volume provides a fascinating safari through the periodic table. On the one hand, giving sound chemistry information and on the other providing interesting social and cultural links to each chemical element, be this in popular culture, history or forensic science. It's delightfully written with wry humour which made me smile several times. It clearly expertly researched. I would recommend this to anybody interested in brushing up on their chemistry knowledge whilst enjoying an entertaining bedtime read.
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By Sid Nuncius #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 20 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I very much enjoyed this book. The beginning wasn't great, what with the statement on page 6 that the elements came into being a few moments after the big bang (they didn't - they began to be formed a long time later) and then a lengthy and slightly clunky section on gold, but it got better very quickly. Each element is treated in an eclectic and quirky section which may deal with its origins, its importance in human history, its odd properties, its influence in literature and so on, including a lot of amusing and interesting anecdotes.

Badly done, this could be dreadful, but Hugh Aldersey-Williams handles it very well and the whole is highly entertaining and very informative. He is extremely erudite, he makes very wide-ranging and shrewd choices about what to include and above all is genuinely hugely enthusiastic about his subject. He also writes very well and I found myself keen to get back and read more, which is by no means always the case for me with this sort of book. It's an excellent read and I recommend it very warmly.
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By Quicksilver TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book has been sitting on my 'to read' pile for quite some time, and having recently read Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon, I thought it would be a good time to carry out an 'A' level style 'compare and contrast'. I have to say that I don't think 'Periodic Tales' is a patch on the 'Disappearing Spoon', which I thoroughly enjoyed. Whilst 'TDS' does have its detractors, I found it to entertaining and informative throughout. 'PT' is a less accessible variation on the same theme. If I was being kind, I could say 'more scholarly' if I was being rude, I might say 'boring'.

Aldersey-Williams' approach is sound; rather than approaching it as an exercise in the history of science, he assess the elements' impact on our culture and social history. Excellent, except he manages to make centuries of social evolution rather drab. The book is broken into five sections 'Power', 'Fire', 'Craft' 'Beauty' and 'Earth'. There is no attempt to stay in anything like periodic table order, a device that worked in the Kean's book, but works less well here. (I'm not really sure why, but I found AW's approach meandering and uncoordinated.) 'The Disappearing Spoon' deals a lot with the personalities involved in discovering the elements, who in themselves, didn't have much of a cultural impact. As a result 'Periodic Tales' lacks a much needed human element. I had trouble with AWs style too. His descriptions are long-winded and his use of vocabulary abstruse (he uses words like abstruse). Peculiarly, some paragraphs and sections finish with no apparent point made. Some stronger editing needed perhaps.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love the idea of this book - tales of how the chemical elements were discovered, and how and where they are used in our daily lives.

And there are some fascinating anecdotes, for example how Mendeleev developed the periodic table and how he created spaces where he thought elements should go, only for those elements to be discovered later, sometimes hundreds of years later. He was a genius.

But for all that I found the book disappointing, mainly because of the way it is (or isn't) structured. Aldersey-Williams has tried to structure the book by five themes (power, beauty etc.) but the stories don't really seem to fit those themes very well. As a result, the stories and anecdotes seem unconnected and can get a bit dull. I would have liked to have seen the book structured in a way that relates to the periodic table itself - as it is the whole thing seems a bit random.

A couple of other minor gripes: it would have been lovely to have a contents page set out by element, so that you can refer back to that element. Instead, the contents lists each section of the book, the titles of which are often only an oblique reference to the element the author is writing about. So going back to find the section on plutonium, for example, is quite hard.

Lastly, there are lots of photos in the book, but no captions for these and occasionally its hard to see what the photos are, and which part of the text describes those photos. Again, this detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

All in all, an interesting idea and some fascinating bits, but because the book is poorly structured I found it quite a dull read.
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By Margaret7 TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 21 April 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have enjoyed a quite a lot of this book. The prose may be a bit on the stodgy side, there are some glaring omissions in the stories, and he's quite fond of his opinions, but much of the content very interesting, if you can cope with the style. Certainly it is almost everything you ever wanted to know about the elements, and the author has obviously done a huge amount of research. Despite its faults,there are some wonderful stories in the book - and it goes to prove that chemistry is certainly not boring.
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