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  • Periodic Tales

    Thu, 19 Jan 2012 12:36

    blog imageToday, we welcome author Hugh Aldersey-Williams onto the blog to talk about his new book, Periodic Tales.

    Consider the Eurozone crisis. No, on second thoughts, you've probably done enough of that. But do consider the actual euro - the folding stuff used by so many of our continental cousins. It's a closely kept secret that the security features in these banknotes incorporate one of the most obscure elements in the whole periodic table - or it was until I blurted it out in my book Periodic Tales. The element is europium, and it's used in some of the fluorescent dyes that make the notes harder to forge. (These dyes are what light up when the cashier in a bank puts the money into those funny UV light machines they've got on their desks.) It's obviously not there by chance - they could have used lots of other elements. But who's responsible for this little euro jeu d'esprit. Nobody's telling.

    Of course, the London Olympics will be big on elements too - gold and silver, and the copper and tin that make up bronze, not to mention the titanium and other fancy alloys used in equipment such as javelins or the carbon-fibre prosthetic limbs of some of the Paralympic athletes.

    And they're even present in the books that the Book Depository ships hither and yon. Mainly as carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in the cellulose of paper, of course. But perhaps also a whiff of chlorine left over from the bleaching process, and some colourful metals in the dyes used for the cover illustrations.

    Periodic Tales has been pretty popular, but I first encountered The Book Depository several years ago, when I self-published a previous book, called Findings: Hidden Stories in First-Hand Accounts of Scientific Discovery. It was a peculiar project (but I think a successful one), taking leading scientific papers of the 20th century, and subjecting them to lit-crit-style deconstruction. All sorts of amazing things emerged from these supposedly dispassionate documents, including seething envies and rivalries, and desperate attempts to cover up for inadequate data. Anyway, Findings was my adventure at the more recondite end of the publishing industry, and that's the reason I really support the Book Depository and its ethos of "selling 'less of more' rather than 'more of less'."

    Happy New Year,

    Hugh

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