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Publisher's Summary

Like the alphabet, the calendar, or the zodiac, the periodic table of the chemical elements has a permanent place in our imagination. But aside from the handful of common ones (iron, carbon, copper, gold), the elements themselves remain wrapped in mystery. We do not know what most of them look like, how they exist in nature, how they got their names, or of what use they are to us. Unlocking their astonishing secrets and colorful pasts, Periodic Tales is a passionate journey through mines and artists' studios, to factories and cathedrals, into the woods and to the sea to discover the true stories of these fascinating but mysterious building blocks of the universe.

©2011 Hugh Aldersey-Williams (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[Hugh's] virtuoso tour of the periodic table reflects its full complement of the human condition." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Story

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  • Carolyn
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 08-24-15

Interesting but Rambling

I enjoyed this audiobook, for the most part. It had lots of good stories about discovering elements in particular, as well as a wide range of connections to real-life uses for elements that made them more real and accessible to a general reader. I am a science teacher and I still learned a few new things, which I appreciated.

That said, while I found the individual stories interesting, the book as a whole doesn't hang together well. It feels disjointed in general and at times seems to ramble on about a topic that is honestly not that interesting. There isn't enough of an effort to keep everything connected to the (honestly pretty flimsy) underlying story so it is hard to keep track of which element is being discussed if you stop and start, especially with the sometimes-arbitrary categorization method used (by author-determined category rather than something related to the periodic table). I can understand why it made no sense to do the elements in order but jumping all over the place was often hard to follow.

Overall, I would say this was worth the listen and definitely made the elements more concrete and relatable to the average person, but it wasn't cohesive or consistent enough for me to give it five stars. Even the narration was somewhat inconsistent.

101 of 108 people found this review helpful

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Buy the book, not the audio book

The coffee table version of the boom is beautiful... don't miss it.
I own both, and regret the audio book purchase.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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A tepid tale ruined by poor narration

The writing is unremarkable, rambling to and fro across the periodic table with little sense of coherence. This could have been a pleasant book with little merit beyond it's inoffensiveness. Sadly no, the narration is downright terrible. For a scientific text pronunciation of technical terms is important. "Nuclear" is frequently used by the author; not once does it go unscathed by the Narrator. I kept listening in vain hope that either the narration or text would improve to make the other palatable. Sadly no, this was a waste of my money and worse yet a waste of my time.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Not Going to Win a Pulitzer, but ...

The Good – So this had been sitting in my wish list for some time. I would do the usual thing that some of you reading this do I’m sure; I’d occasionally listen to the sample and then I’d hem and haw and end up picking something else. The reviews, the subject matter and the sample just didn’t have enough to persuade me to use a whole credit to buy it. My cost vs. value analysis being; it just didn’t seem to be worth a whole nine-and-a-half dollars. Then one day it pops up on the Daily Deal and for five bucks I say; “hey, it’s not a full credit so why not?" I’m neither happy nor sad that I did so.

The Not So Good - While it is interspersed with some interesting stories and anecdotes it’s not what I would call a solid book. It’s adolescent in its presentation of the subject matter and while I agree that it needs to avoid being a chemistry textbook I would have appreciated a bit more science and a bit less story telling.

The Narration – Antony Ferguson was very good and that alone kept my interest from start to finish, especially through some of the slower portions.

The Overall – Periodic Tales is okay. It had some funny parts and some pretty interesting parts. I particularly liked the section about aluminum or, as our cousins across the pond would say/spell it; aluminium. (yes, he does talk about that little inconsistency in our common language). I’ll keep this book because the cost vs. value worked out and I may actually listen to it again. I book marked the sections I particularly enjoyed or learned something from so I can go back as reference later. I learned a few things I hadn’t know before which is my ultimate goal with any book. In closing I can say that I would not have been happy had I used a full credit for it and I would have been apoplectic had I paid full price.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Maddening

I will preface this with the acknowledgement that the following is not uncommon, especially in the UK, but it sets my teeth on edge and I can't finish listening for the genuine fear that it would otherwise trigger a cerebral or cardiac event. There is only a single 'u' in the word nuclear. In a book where radioactive elements are subjects for most of the first few chapters this is just too much. Not to mention that 'ochre' is _not_ the same thing as 'okra'. Why did no one listen to it critically before releasing it? I want my credit returned because this one would kill me, quite literally, to hear more.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Pamela
  • Bigfork, Montana
  • 06-01-17

Mixed feelings

With a strong edit this could have been a very good book. As noted by many reviewers, it is a bit scattered. It is easy to lose track of what he is talking about since there does not seem to be a strong "story line." It skips back and forth in time (admittedly necessary) but launches into a new section without warning - are we in the Renaissance or Edwardian time?

There is way too much cultural and political judgement for my taste in a science book. The author is welcome to his opinion on tasteful and garish use of the elements, but it add very little to the story. His stories about Frank Gehry or mid-century chrome appliance have an interest from the element side of the story but his personal preferences neither interest me nor move the story forward.

With a better narration it could have been a very good book. In addition to the nagging mispronouncing, he has a madding habit of stopping in the middle of a sentence for a beat or two. More than once I thought my MP3 player had stopped, but then he went right on from where he dropped out. Weird.

That said, there is a fascinating story behind so many of these mysterious and elusive residents of the periodic table. I am not sorry I listened but I probably won't listen to it again. I am being generous with 4 stars as I really want it to be better than it is.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fun set of introductions to (some of) the elements

Any additional comments?

Interesting exploration of some of the elements through stories about their historic use, their discovery, their evolving status, and their cultural significance. The author clearly finds his topic fascinating and mostly his enthusiasm is contagious. A reader will walk away knowing a lot more about the substances that surround us and the wonder of the Periodic Table.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Artin
  • HOUSTON, TEXAS, United States
  • 11-06-15

Warning; don't listen this book if you are afraid

Of getting addicted to Elements.
Superb performance by the narrator. Great subtle British humor while educating us.
A must read if you are curious about Elements.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Amazing

This is an absolutely amazing book p.It talks about how the elements were discovered,they're used in society,they're history, religious use and much more.a great part of the book was when they were saying how alchemy lead to the finding of new elements and really got me enthused about alchemical science.

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Chemical Elements Revealed Outside the Classroom!

This is a fascinating history of the discovery and use of our vast assortment of chemical elements. Of course this kind of book is not for everyone, unless your rideshare partner doesn't mind sleeping while you listen attentively to the description of the periodic table. 😉