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A test of our metal

How does the periodic table tell the story of our scientific and cultural history? Matt Ridley investigates

By Matt Ridley   179

Engraving of an early firework display at Whitehall from Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, which tells the story of the elements

The best science writing emulates fiction, creating plots, surprises and characters out of its esoteric material. The science writer’s trick is to transmute the dull tinplate of fact and theory into the precious gold of truthful entertainment. Thus James Watson turned the discovery of the structure of DNA into a charming farce (The Double Helix, 1968); Richard Dawkins turned gene-based evolution into a gripping detective story (The Selfish Gene, 1976); and Simon Singh turned the history of mathematics into…

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