Periodic Tales

A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc


Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Ecco, first US edition, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-182472-2



According to one of the blurbs, this book is "fascinating and beautiful...If only chemistry had been like this at school." Although the book is an enjoyable and engaging (two things that are often wanting in school chemistry classes), keep in mind that if chemistry was like this in school, you would not learn any chemistry! This book does not attempt to teach the reader any actual chemistry, but rather to enlighten us on how different elements have helped shape our social world. Using perhaps two dozen different elements as examples, the author guides us through five different themes: Power, Fire, Craft, Beauty and Earth. Using rather broad brushstrokes the writer provides a jaunt through history that is delightful, but reader beware, rather than a main course that satiates your appetite, this book will feel like an appetizer that will leave you desiring to know more. So if you are in the mood for a morsel, please indulge; otherwise move on lest you feel cheated.