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Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc
Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Bestseller
An eye-opening adventure deep inside the everyday materials that surround us, packed with surprising stories and fascinating science
Why is glass see-through? What makes elastic stretchy? Why does a paper clip bend? Why does any material look and behave the way it does? These are the sorts of questions that Mark Miodownik is constantly asking himself. A globally-renowned materials scientist, Miodownik has spent his life exploring objects as ordinary as an envelope and as unexpected as concrete cloth, uncovering the fascinating secrets that hold together our physical world.
In Stuff Matters, Miodownik entertainingly examines the materials he encounters in a typical morning, from the steel in his razor and the graphite in his pencil to the foam in his sneakers and the concrete in a nearby skyscraper. He offers a compendium of the most astounding histories and marvelous scientific breakthroughs in the material world, including:
"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. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
This unique volume presents a cultural history of the periodic table of elements and examines the many ways in which these common building blocks, often taken for granted or relegated to the chemistry lab, have influenced all aspects of society from art to science to philosophy, religion and culture. The work is written for the general reader and includes numerous black and white photographs. Aldersey-Williams is the author of several science related books. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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, Einsteins Dreams, Longitude, and The Age of Wonder.
An eye-opening adventure deep inside theand#160;everyday materials that surround us,and#160;from concrete and steel to denim and chocolate, packed with surprising stories and fascinating science.
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. Welcome to a dazzling tour through history and literature, science and art. In Periodic Tales, you'll meet iron that rains from the heavens and neon as it lights its way to vice. You'll learn how lead can tell your future and why zinc may one day line your coffin. You'll discover what connects the bones in your body with the White House in Washington, the glow of a streetlight with the salt on your dinner table.
From ancient civilizations to contemporary couture, from the oxygen of publicity to the phosphorous in your pee, the elements are near and far and all around 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.
About the Author
Hugh Aldersey-Williams served as the design critic for The New Statesmanfor five years and regularly contributes to The Independent, The Guardian,and New Scientist.He is the author of The Most Beautiful Moleculeand New American Design.
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Science and Mathematics » Chemistry » General
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General