Title and author
The Periodic Kingdom by Peter Atkins
What’s it about?
Good question… it’s about the periodic table. The book is written as though the periodic table is a continent, a new land to be discovered and explored. Atkins plays the role of the anthropologist, describing its trends and intricacies as a scholar who has lived amongst the native tribes, learned their way of life, their history and their governance, and is sharing this knowledge with the reader.
What are the good bits?
Atkins has a unique writing style (that simply infuriated me when battling through his enormous eponymous physical chemistry textbook) which is quite well suited to this interesting premise.
What are the not-so-good bits?
A couple of parts of the book are out of date, in particular mention of the elements joliotium and hahnium. Although the uncertainty surrounding the names of these elements is acknowledged in the text, other names ended up being chosen after the book was published. From what I could find on the all-knowing internets, there were no further editions after the 1995 original to update these details.
Atkins also referred to carbon as the ‘King of Mediocrity’ to which I raise a hearty objection. Or maybe he was being facetious…
What does it say on p147 line 8?
For this part of my reviews I usually choose a page at random, but for this book there was a particular quote from the epilog [sic… WTF is this by the way, isn’t Atkins British? He should know better] I wanted to use.
“The real world is a jumble of awesome complexity and immeasurable charm. Even the inanimate, inorganic world of rocks and stone, rivers and ocean, air and wind is a boundless wonder. Add to that the ingredient of life and the wonder is multiplied almost beyond imagination. Yet all this wonder springs from about one hundred components that are strung together, mixed, compacted, and linked, as letters are linked to form a literature”
FUCK. YEAH. Chemists, this is our “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Why isn’t this quote famous? The whole freaking world is made of elements. Just elements. That is it. And those elements are OURS. Why are people scared of them? They are amazing. The world is made of elements and they are amazing and it is amazing. The end.
Who should read it?
Despite its clear and easy to understand explanations of the trends of the periodic table, I doubt this would interest those without a chemistry background or a significant interest in the technicalities of the periodic table. I’d be interested to know who Atkins imagined the audience for this book would be.
How good is it?
It’s good, but slightly dated, and the style is something of an acquired taste I presume.
3 squeezy solvent wash bottles out of 5
Earlier today I hosted a quite interesting afternoon tea with some friends at work. I’d purchased some miraculin tablets, and a few assorted foodthings to try ‘flavour tripping’. Miraculin is a protein found in the fruit of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, native to West Africa. When a miraculin tablet is dissolved in the mouth, the protein binds to your taste buds and changes your perception of flavours. The remarkable effect of this is that sour or bitter tastes are changed to taste sweet.
The tablets themselves are pretty nothing, with a flavour I would describe as ‘cardboard fruit tingles’. You have to be sure to roll the tablet very well around your tongue, and coat it all over or you’ll find there are parts where your tastebuds can still detect sour flavours. The foods we tried this afternoon included;
- Lemons and limes: in a word, delicious. Especially the limes. It’s a delight to sink your teeth into a wedge of lime and have the taste of sweet citrus fill your mouth, no puckering or squinting required!
- Salt and vinegar chips: unusual, the acidity of the vinegar is completely muted and there is a dull sweetness present, but the chips still tasted overall like a savoury snack. Ordinarily I find salt and vinegar chips revolting, but I could’ve easily eaten the packet on miraculin.
- Natural yoghurt: as expected, the sour flavour of natural yoghurt was modified so it tastes just like a sweetened yoghurt. Very pleasant.
- Sharp cheddar: the sharpness of the vintage cheddar was muted, so that the cheese tasted like a colby or other mild firm cheese.
- Goats cheese: very close in flavour to cream cheese icing commonly found on carrot cake. Easily could’ve eaten the whole lot.
- Vegemite: pretty gross, vegemitey but somehow sickly as well. Do not recommend.
- Tabasco: the hottest sweet chilli sauce I’ve ever tried.
- Vinegar: I read somewhere that on miraculin vinegar would taste like apple juice… HELL NO. Look, it’s drinkable but it’s still vinegar really. Drinkable vinegar. Yum…
- Guinness: I also read that Guinness was going to taste like chocolate. It did not. It’s interesting that the bitterness of the beer is completely gone, but the chocolate I was hoping for was sorely lacking and it was not really very nice at all.
After trying these, a few other items I’d be interested in sampling;
- Balsamic vinegar
- Rocket, endive or other bitter leaf vegetable
If you are curious about trying Miraculin I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. At $2-3 bucks a pop, the tablets aren’t cheap, but it’s worth it because it’s a lot of fun and really messes with your perception of some foods. We found the effects of the Miraculin tablets lasted about 30-40 minutes. I still have a couple of tablets left, so if you have any suggestions for other things that could be fun to try, hit me up.