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on 1 February 2011
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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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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on 13 March 2013
If you enjoyed The Disappearing Spoon then you will probably also enjoy this book.

While studying chemistry what we learn about the elements tends to concentrate on their properties and interactions. So, it's nice to sit back on the sofa and read some history and anecdotes about them.

Among many other things, I found the section on Brand's preparation of phosphorous, and the author's attempt to duplicate it very entertaining. It was also nice to read a bit about the rare earths, which weren't a topic of study in my college days.

I found it difficult to put this book down. If you enjoy chemistry you will probably feel the same way.
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on 4 March 2011
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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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.

But this too heavily negative for a book which has some fascinating facts and observations. The 'Power' and 'Beauty' sections of the novel are particularly fine. There is definitely some interesting stuff in this book, but I'm not sure how much it would appeal to non-chemists. Whilst Aldersey-Williams clearly knows his stuff, his passion for his subject fails to transfer to the page, which is a great shame.
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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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on 13 November 2016
It's well written, and the reader does not have to be a scientist as there is very little chemistry or physics involved - these being some of the stories behind the elements on the Periodic Table.

Several different ways of looking at things which is always refreshing.

I think I would say that this is great food for more research (if you are interested), and so it does not go into all the details associated with each element or discovery or person, but just enough that if something interests you, Google or Wiki are only a click away for more research.
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on 26 September 2013
I was recommended this book to read, which can be a risky and rewarding activity, depending on the tastes of the person making the recommendation. I have to say I found this book frustrating. I was expecting amusing scientific tales about the discoverers of the elements and a canter through the periodic table itself. But no, the book is full of literary quotes from books I thought I would never have to read again, and slightly cod analyses of the impact of the elements on culture and society. In truth, I am not sure what I would recommend instead, but I am loth to recommend this book. In its favour, the author is enthusiastic and knows his chemistry, and it is fun to find out how the elements were named. But this could have been achieved in far fewer words.
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VINE VOICEon 24 February 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When this arrived I was not sure if I was going to like it as I had chosen it on a bit of a whim. I opened the package and had a quick flick through...which lasted an hour. My husband listened as I regaled him with snippets, such as why Cleopatra drank her precious pearl earring and when I eventually put it down he snatched it up and carried on reading where I had left off. I am delighted that my whim turned out to be sound - I would definitely recommend this to anyone with a passing interest in science and/or the natural world.
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on 22 June 2011
Afraid I have to agree with the other Kindle reviewers. I didn't recognise the book described on the printed version - I, too, found this a disappointingly random collection of ragbag facts which one supposes is an attempt to 'humanise' the stories behind the elements. I found it difficult to maintain focus on some of the longer anecdotes, which weren't all that interesting, and overall it had rather little science in it.

IMO, it would have been better if the book was more structured around the Periodic Table itself and guided you through the various parts, with diagrams or schematics to match. Sometimes the chapter titles had you guessing where we were going next, and it was even sometimes unclear when a story had moved on to another element mid-chapter.
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