A Book that's Related to the Periodic Table of Elements: Staff Picks for the 2019 Reading Challenge

November 21, 2019 | Book Buzz

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Are you participating in our reading challenge? So are library staff all across the city. These are some of their picks for the category "A book that's related to the Periodic Table of Elements".  This category on our advanced challenge sounds intimidating at first but it really offers a lot of flexibility. 

One option is to read a book about the Periodic Table like this one:

Periodic table in minutes

The Periodic Table in Minutes by Don Green

Or you can get creative. 

Silver (Ag) is one of the elements listed. What about a book about werewolves? They are vulnerable to silver, right? 

This book sounds perfect:

Silver bullets

Silver Bullets: Classic Werewolf Stories

Sodium (Na) is another element. Why not try a microhistory of salt?

Salt a world historuy

Salt: a World History by Mark Kurlansky

Gold (Au) is another possibility. In Charlotte Gray's latest book, she writes about the still-unsolved 1943 murder of millionaire gold miner, Sir Harry Oakes.

Murdered midas

Murdered Midas: a Millionaire, his Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise by Charlotte Gray

Some other suggestions:

  • Nonfiction about a musician with platinum (Pt) records?
  • A book set in Sudbury, home of the big nickel (Ni)?
  • A book about an Au pair?
  • A mystery involving arsenic (As) poisoning?

Eunice's Recommendations

Man from krypton

The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman

Why: While Krypton is a fictional planet, Kr in the Periodic table is a (real) colorless, tasteless and odorless gas.

Secrets of silicon valley

Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World by Deborah Perry Piscione

Why: The name Silicon Valley was derived from the semiconductors made from Si ( Silicon) in the periodic table- the second most abundant chemical in the earths crust. Silicon Valley was also an HBO series from 2015-17.

Brush with death2

Brush with Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning by Christian Warren

Why: This book discusses the effects of lead (Pb) poisoning and the measures used to combat. Related to this is The poisoned city: Flint's water and the American urban tragedy. Pb comes from Latin Plumbum related to plumbing. Think, aging pipes, in the case of Flint, MI which caused lead to leach and contaminate the water supply.

Napoleon's buttons

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur

Why: It chronicles the fate of Napoleons army. Tin from Latin, Stannum (Sn) of which the buttons were made, could not withstand the harsh Russian winters and crumbled to dust. Some call this "the greatest wardrobe malfunction in history"....


Dawn's Recommendation

Hydrogen sonata

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain Banks


Therese's recommendation

Altered carbon

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan


Wendy's Recommendation

Periodic table primo levi

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Why: It's a collection of short stories and other things - essays? memoir? - each of which in some way concerns one of the elements in the periodic table. There's something really nice and gentle and sometimes profound about the way Levi writes.


Amy's Recommendation

Silver spoon

Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa

I read the Silver Spoon books, which are manga and works for "a book in translation" as well as "a graphic novel". 

It's about an agricultural high school in rural Japan, and a teenage boy who decides to attend the school even though he has no background in farming. He thinks that it will be "easy" and he's feeling burnt out from all of the demands and expectations of academia (and his parents). It's an interesting inside look at the farming and agricultural industry - and yes, it does get into details about the animals we eat - and how difficult life truly is for farmers.

The title refers to a silver (Au) spoon hanging above one of the doorways in the school. As of volume 9, the spoon hasn't yet been explained - but those of us familiar with the expression about being "born with a silver spoon in their mouth" may have some ideas.


Pauline's Recommendations

Radium girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore

Midnight in chernobyl

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham


Sarah's Recommendation

Uncle tungsten

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks

Why: My suggestion is a bit more literal, but I really enjoyed Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks.


Suggestions from the Facebook Discussion Group

Here are just some of the picks from our Facebook discussion group. Visit the group to see the full list!


Have you already completed the Reading Challenge and Advanced Challenge?  Our online entry form for the year-end prize draw is up and ready! Read more about it on the main Reading Challenge webpage.


What books did you read for this category? Tell us in the comments!