After Hours

The personification of the periodic table's elements

Wally Bahny reviews the English translation of the book Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified. Find out if he thinks it's worth a read.

I recently read Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified by Bunpei Yorifuji. (Disclosure: I received a review copy by the book's publisher No Starch Press.) This book takes the boring old periodic table and enhances it, giving the elements a life and spirit of their own all while teaching readers about those elements.

The book's most prominent feature is the personification of the elements. The author uses various aspects of a person's appearance, such as hair style, facial hair, body size, and clothing to convey the element's family, length of time known, relative atomic weight, and usage area, respectively.  Also, three different lower-body designs convey the three different natural physical states: legs for solid, melted or liquid for liquid, and a genie-like bottom half for gas.

The author spends a large portion of the book dedicating between one-quarter and two full pages to each element. These profiles give details about the element's state and basic information using the physical features of the elemental "people" and then continues to give other known details and some interesting trivia. Here are some examples of the personal features.

  • Hydrogen: Being a unique element, it is given the "hair style" of a crown. Other physical features include a long beard, signifying that we've known about it since ancient times; a tank-top shirt, signifying multipurpose use; and a genie-like bottom half signifying a gas. The profile also includes several uses of hydrogen. All elemental profiles include melting point, boiling point, and density. (See Figure A).
  • Carbon: The charter member of the carbon family, carbon wears a graduation cap. Like hydrogen, its tank-top shirt signifies multipurpose use, legs signify a solid state, and long beard signifies that we've known about it since ancient times. Also like hydrogen, the two-page spread for carbon includes several uses of carbon like charcoal, diamonds, and fullerene.
  • Uranium: A member of the actinide family, uranium has three spiky tufts of hair. It is also relatively heavy-set, has legs, and is wearing a three-piece suit, which signifies industrial uses. In addition, behind its head is the "universal" symbol for radioactivity.

Hydrogen entry in Wonderful Life with the Elements. Image used with permission from No Starch Press. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Wonderful Life with the Elements was originally written for a Japanese readership in 2009 and was later translated to English; some of the examples are not translated well into English, such as some of the foods in the chapter on "How to eat the elements." Even so, this book helps to make the 118 elements and the periodic table in general much more understandable and easier to learn. If it weren't for some cartoon nudity in the bodies of some of the elements (which the author never describes the reason for), the book would even be a good learning tool for children. Either way, adults can learn a great deal about the elements in the world around them by reading this book.

The Super Periodic Table of the Elements from Wonderful Life of the Elements. Image used with permission from No Starch Press. (Click the image to enlarge.)

For more information, take a look at the official web page at No Starch Press. The book and ebook combo retails for $17.95 US, but can be found the book for a discount at at the time of this writing.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox