It’s elementary – you can find your favourite book of the year on 31 December

Every year the best books of the year list start popping up in November. Or earlier. But 2009 was a bit of a strange one for me – I think my favourite book of the year was one I started reading on 31 December.

The elements : a visual exploration of every known atom in the universe by Theodore Gray:

Based on five years of research and photography, the pictures in this book make up the most complete, and visually arresting, representation available to the naked eye of every atom in the universe. Organized in order of appearance on the periodic table, each element is represented by a spread that includes a stunning, full-page, full-colour photograph that most closely represents it in its purest form.

This would make a wonderful coffee table book for even the least scientifically inclined amongst us. You can dip into each element. Gray’s prose style is laid back, and he has an eye for the intriguing detail that you’d expect from such an ardent collector:

  • Thallium was used in a few murders.
  • Element 112 Ununbium and onwards have placeholders – they have been discovered but need to be independently verified before a name is officially assigned.
  • It is more prestigious to have an element named after you than to get a Nobel Prize. Rutherford has Rutherfordium. Apparently a big exercise on element naming was a bit of a tetchy exercise, more politically tricky than the United Nations.
  • Fiestaware (ceramic tableware) is radioactive, uranium gave it that lovely orangey red shade.

Read the book, and also check out his web site for more fascinating elemental facts.

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