Review In 500 Words: Periodic Tales – Hugh Aldersey-Willians

Title: Periodic Tales

Author: Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Publisher: Penguin Books (2012)

Price: £9.99

Rating: 9/10


This is yet another book that I was drawn to by its cover. Bold squares of different elements visually shown by their uses made for an eye-catching first impression. Judging the book by its cover I had very high expectations for this book and it definitely delivered.


The book is split into five main categories which various elements are sorted into. This was a structure which I liked because it made for very easy structured reading which could fit around my busy lifestyle. I finished the book in a week by reading a section a day, but slower readers or even busier people could break it into further chunks as each section is then split into chapters which focus on specific elements. All in all, I think that this way of splitting up a book is clever, because it allows for easy continuation rather than the bookmarking and rereading which you can end up doing in longer texts.


The actual reading material is exceptional. Told from a collector’s perspective it made me consider journeying around the world to mines and laboratories trying to find pieces which make up the periodic table. The writing is engaging and provides for an almost immersive experience, helped along by useful photos which illustrate locations or key objects. The book almost feels like what I imagine those virtual reality headsets do, but the awe at being surrounded by knowledge and raw elemental material is created without the need to strap a ridiculous looking box to my head.


The thing I like most about this book is just how interesting it is. That sounds daft, but I think sometimes we can read books and appreciate the knowledge in them without being truly mesmerised by the information contained within. One of my favourite chapters in this was about mercury and I found myself a couple of days later having a discussion with some people I know about the element. Thanks to the book, I was able to relay some more interesting aspects about the metal’s history to those I know, adding depth to an insightful conversation.


It is true that we often take the elements for granted, and this book manages to turn that upon its head and make me want to actively promote just how special they are. It cherishes the obscure and highlights just how often we see them in everyday items without really knowing that they’re there. As stated throughout the book, we now live in a world where to us the elements are pretty much just a poster on a classroom wall. To consider a period where some individuals were discovering element after element is exciting reading.


As you know, I’m all about science being accessible to all and I rather think that this book is one which almost anyone with school memories of chemistry can pick up and enjoy. Even if only to look further into one specific element. An overall excellent read, though some elements’ tales were told better than others.



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