In the spirit of A Short History of Nearly Everything comes Periodic Tales. Award-winning science writer Hugh Andersey-Williams offers readers a captivating look at the elements—and the amazing, little-known stories behind their discoveries. Periodic Tales is an energetic and wide-ranging book of innovations and innovators, of superstition and science and the myriad ways the chemical elements are woven into our culture, history, and language. It will delight readers of Genome, Einstein’s Dreams, Longitude, and The Age of Wonder.
British author Aldersey-Williams, whose range includes architecture, design, and science, delves into the elemental the perfect subject matter for his lighthearted erudition. Aldersey-Williams presents a veritable blizzard of facts, anecdotes, and cultural allusions in this informative look at the world's building blocks. Beginning with gold, he ponders the intriguing question of the source of its mysterious value, quoting the ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder who wisely said, "the first person who put gold on his fingers committed the worse crime against human life." When pursuing chlorine, Aldersey-Williams invokes Wilfred Owen's WWI poem "The old Lie," comparing it to John Singer Sargent's painting, Gassed, from the same period. Seemingly unremarkable lead is unmasked as a source of two of the most formative changes in western culture: the foundation for the type in Guttenberg's printing press and ammunition. Whether discussing arsenic's poisonous past or emerald's color, which "we are biologically programmed to appreciate," Aldersey-Williams puts truth behind the notion "each allocation is a little bit of our civilization." His virtuoso tour of the periodic table reflects its full complement of the human condition.