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Wonderful Life with the Elements

The following is a review of Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified.

Remember dozing off in high school chemistry class? If you think that the Periodic Table of Elements is merely a boring compilation of chemical elements, you haven't read this book by Japanese artist Bunpei Yorifuji.

Bunpei's introduction to chemical elements wasn't a particularly good one. When he was an art student, he heard that inhaling helium could raise the pitch of his voice. So he decided to inhale the gas not from helium balloons, which contain small amount of gas, but from helium canisters:


So I exhaled with all my might, opened one of the canisters, and filled my lungs with as much helium as I could. And everything just went black. I tried to breathe, but all I could really do was gasp, as no air would grace my lungs. I could feel the warmth leaving my body as I started to lose consciousness. It was only after this experience that I learned that inhaling pure helium can lead to suffocation and death.

Since I was all alone in the lab, I decided it might be a good idea to call out for help.

IN SUPER SOPRANO: "help meee ..."

But that voice! Inhaling helium is dangerous in more than one way. The first is that it suffocates you, and the second is that even if you call for help, your cries will probably be dismissed as a bad practical joke.

We're surrounded with chemical compounds and elements - but how much do we really know about them? As Bunpei's experience tells us, it's probably a good idea to know something about the elements.

In Wonderful Life with the Elements, Bunpei draws every chemical element as a unique character whose properties are represented visually. Heavy elements are fat and man-made elements are robots. Even their hairstyles mean something: plain and boring alkali earth metals sport pudding bowl cuts, the noble gases have too-cool afros, and the rare lanthanides have astro hair.

Every detail is meticulously drawn: elements that have been known since ancient times have long beards whereas newly discovered ones have pacifiers. Even the clothes on the element's back signify its use by mankind.

(Click to embiggen)

Take a look at more from the book:

We're giving away one copy of Bunpei's awesome book to a lucky commenter - Tell us which chemical element is your favorite and why. Update: Congratulations to Kanga, who won the book!

From the brilliant mind of Japanese artist Bunpei Yorifuji comes Wonderful Life with the Elements, an illustrated guide to the periodic table that gives chemistry a friendly face.

Why bother trudging through a traditional periodic table? In this periodic paradise, the elements are people too. And once you've met them, you'll never forget them.

About the Artist
Born in 1973 in Nagano, Japan, Bunpei Yorifuji is a Musashino Art University dropout. His other books include The Catalog of Death (Shi ni Katarogu) and The Scale of Mind (Suuji no Monosashi). He has also co-authored Uncocoro and The Earthquake Checklist (Jishin Itsumonooto), among others. Find out more about Bunpei and his works at his website.

Wonderful Life with the Elements is published by No Starch Press and is available from Amazon and at bookstores near you.

Authors and publishers: Want to feature your book on Neatorama for free? Email info AT neatorama DOT com for details on Neatorama's Book Excerpt feature.

My favourite element is mercury. It's the only metal that's room temperature at STP, which is very cool.

Its role in the story of the term "Mad Hatter" is really interesting, although I do find the story very sad.

Mercury is so awesome that it has its own nickname, quicksilver, which has permeated the general lexicon, as a quick search of the term will show. How many other elements can say that?
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I've always loved silver. It reacts with so many different compounds to form so many different things, a personal favorite being silver nitrate. Back when I was in chemistry, my professor "branded" all of us in the class with it.

Another plus side to it, it's significantly cheaper than gold, and I think it looks just as good!
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I've always been partial to sodium. It's what gives campfires and sodium-vapor street lamps their yellow color. Sodium is also fun to cut with a knife, since it's soft, and watch it immediately oxidize. If you cut off a little piece of sodium and throw it in a beaker of water, it will sizzle around on the surface, releasing hydrogen, and then ignite into a flaming ball of awesome.

I'd love to see how this book describes sodium!
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I would have to give that honor to cesium for a couple of reasons. To be perfectly hyperbolic, we owe all of science to cesium, because the global definition of one second has been defined as a certain number of vibrations of a cesium atom (9,192,631,770, to be exact), and without this definition, science as we know it could not exist.

Cesium also has a wonderfully low melting point (like gallium, my second favorite element), and although it's a solid at room temperature, it melts if you hold it in your hand.

But cesium's not done yet! It has the good fortune to be part of the alkali metals group. That means that it (along with sodium, mentioned above) explodes when put into contact with water. Because it's so far down in the group, it offers a bigger boom per gram than sodium does, though. (The product of this explosion is a a strong enough base that you can use it to etch glass - presumably the safety glass you were standing behind before you dropped it in water.)

And for all that, it's got one of the prettiest names in the table - it comes from the Latin for "sky blue", because when it burns, it emits sky blue light in the visible spectrum, among things.

(P.S. - in case my sales pitch convinced anyone to go and buy some cesium for their DIY atomic clock, let me warn you - just one gram costs about the same as my rent for a month. But happy sales hunting!)
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*cough* I'm really, really fond of Krypton because of its name. Seriously, every time I read it, John Williams' score from Superman starts blaring in my head.
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I love love carbon! We sure couldn't survive without it. It bonds beautifully with so many other elements. I like an element who knows how to play nicely with others.
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I think the blue-green color you get when you burn copper is one of the most unusual colors in nature. I also like that it forms a patina to protect itself from a corrosive environment.
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