The Secret Lives of the Elements

The Secret Lives of the Elements

When we think of the periodic table we picture orderly rows of elements that conform to type and never break the rules. The Secret Lives of the Elements reveals that the periodic table is more like a sprawling extended family – with its own black sheep, rebels and oddballs.

Here are the strange and wonderful stories of fifty-two members of that family – remarkable tales of discovery, inspirations and revolution, from the everyday to the extraordinary. Uncover the personalities, passions, quirks and historical oddities of the elements: from cobalt the trickster to the devil incarnate polonium, via the gothic leanings of phosphorus to the role of thallium in a bizarre plot to murder Fidel Castro.

The culmination of a lifetime’s obsession with the building blocks of the world around us, Kathryn Harkup’s enchanting book will change the way you see the periodic table forever.

The perfect book to escape our human-sized existence and take a tour of the atomic world instead. Witty, well-researched and packed full of skilled storytelling, this book is one secret I won’t be keeping to myself.

Helen Arney

Kathryn breathes life into the elements with mystery and quirky details galore.  It’s wonderful that a book has been written that brings the periodic table to a new audience in such an accessible, intelligent way. It will appeal to all curious people, even those who haven’t an atom of previous knowledge of chemistry.

Helen Keen

Like being led through a museum of everything with its dynamic curator.  The Secret Lives of the Elements is brimful of captivating stories and revelations about all the ingredients you need to make an entire universe.

Robin Ince


I also give talks about this book and the elements. For information click here

Podcasts and Interviews

Highbrow Drivel – The Secret Lives of the Elements

Something You Should Know – The Science of Creativity & What You Never Knew About the Periodic Table of Elements