"Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc"

Tulsa, Oklahoma – On today's edition of ST, we speak by phone with Hugh Aldersey-Williams, who's written several books on architecture, design, and science, including "The Most Beautiful Molecule" (which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize). His new book is an entertaining collection of anecdotes and facts called "Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc." As we read in the dust-jacket copy on this book's front flap: "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. . . ." Also on today's show, our commentator Ian Shoales is fretting about the fate of the lowly potato in America's grade-school cafeterias.