Periodic Tales

The Curious Lives of the Elements
Narrated by: John Sackville
Length: 13 hrs and 34 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, read by John Sackville. 

Everything in the universe is made of them, including you.

Like you, the elements have personalities, attitudes, talents, shortcomings, stories rich with meaning.

Here you'll meet iron that rains from the heavens and noble gases that light the way to vice. You'll learn how lead can tell your future while zinc may one day line your coffin. You'll discover what connects the bones in your body with the Whitehouse in Washington, the glow of a streetlamp with the salt on your dinner table.

Unlocking their astonishing secrets and colourful pasts, Periodic Tales is a voyage of wonder and discovery, showing that their stories are our stories, and their lives are inextricable from our own.

©2018 Hugh Aldersey-Williams (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Science writing at its best. A fascinating and beautiful literary anthology, bringing them to life as personalities. If only chemistry had been like this at school. A rich compilation of delicious tales." (Matt Ridley, Prospect)

"A love letter to the chemical elements. Aldersey-Williams is full of good stories and he knows how to tell them well." (Sunday Telegraph)

"Great fun to read and an endless fund of unlikely and improbable anecdotes." (Financial Times)

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  • mat brown
  • 09-03-18

Fantastically informative

Blimey I wasn’t hoping for much but was utterly surprised how entrancing this was

The subject matter was compelling and the narrator engaging

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Alanm
  • 10-24-19

not as billed or well read

Even if you get over the over dramatic reading, think long pauses and breathy pitch drops at the end of EVERY sentance and even some commas, this is exceptionally poor and not as billed.

I was expecting a mildly, perhaps amatuer oriented scientific book with interesting tales of the discovery and unique function of each of the elements. Not endless random and irrelevant stories.

For example on Carbon, it starts ok with a little history of turning wood into charcoal and the technique. However there are at least 8 lengthy literay reference that are irrelevant including referencs to the Magna Carta and Italian Carbonari.

Another example it says Molybdenum is a little more grey than pladium. Seen much palladium?

It just shows how good Bill Bryson's books are. The Body and a Brief History of Nearly Everything are masterclasses on making scientific things interesting. This author is barely nursery class level by comparison.

I am sure he put a lot of work into the book and it's hard writing such a harsh review but very disappointing...

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • js-sj
  • 09-11-19

More of a story than science, but interesting

M own fault for not reading about this book properly, but it was much more of a story/history than I expected - a fact made clear right from the start of the book by the author.

I still enjoyed the tales. Wasn't what I expected, but learned a lot about science history and still some interesting chemistry notes thrown in.

1 person found this helpful

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  • T1bs
  • 02-03-20

Not what I expected

Maybe It's just that I listened to it right after a Bill Bryson book, but I found the storytelling a bit clumsy. It reminds me of writing an essay and getting to a point where you dont have much value to add but you feel like you have to use the available word count. It's an endless festival of getting sidetracked not actually talking about the elements but anything that can vaguely linked to them. To give an example, mentioning that sulfur appears in the Bible several times and giving a couple of examples is fine. Meticulously citing every place where sulfur appears in the Bible made my eyes rolling and my brain sighting 'to the point for f*cks sake not another pointless story rabbit hole'. But again, maybe it's just me putting the bar too high. I also want to emphasise that I did not finish the book, I formed this opinion after about 3 hours into it. Sadly I wont finish it.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Dr
  • 01-21-20

For Chemistry geeks

Think you know everything about the elements? Think again, as you are taken on a journey through the periodic table. The author goes through the chemistry of Fireworks, Poisons and doesn't shy away from looking for the elements in the the most unusual places such as his own urine (not kidding)

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  • abbeyroad
  • 09-04-19

Captivating and useful

Book is very interesting, I liked to listen to it while driving in the car.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-19-19

Great

Great book, worth a listen. Such Interesting subject matter and well sectioned. Five star no question

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  • Ian
  • 04-10-19

Fascinating

This is a most interesting journey through the periodic table and the elements which are familiar, and those which we will likely never come across. The author makes the elements come to life through a fascinating series of stories. Never dull.

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  • JayD
  • 02-28-20

A casual survey of the elements

Not a scientific work but more a kind of narrative that follows the discovery of individual elements and the greater impact these discoveries have had on human culture.
Not an intellectually demanding book, it unfolds very much like a BBC Four documentary, conversational in tone and fairly light in technical detail (which I would have preferred). It hasn’t the heart or artistry of Primo Levi’s work but it stands well enough on its own as a mild example of what might be called a subjective essay.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-16-19

Not what I expected but still enjoyable

was hoping for a book to describe the original discovery of the elements including the geographical locations. Whilst this was part of the book it focussed more on the cultural significance of the elements.
I found the book had a slow start particularly in its discussion about gold (of which the cultural significance felt like it was stating the obvious). however I recommend sticking through as the later sections are more engaging