Rex Reason presents the Periodic Table of the Elements in book form. A colour-coding system is set up (black for solids, blue for liquids and yellow synthetics) but where we might expect to find hydrogen, helium or lithium we find Yul Brynner, William Hogarth and Maria Callas. The selected names relate to the chemical symbol for each element: both letters must appear in the chosen name for example, Bertolt Brecht (Br, Bromine).
A loose logic prevails in the choice of names, for example names in red, gases, are from Greek myth or history and the yellow synthetic elements are given their proper names. However, Patterson disrupts this system with red herrings, mysteries and riddles that test the reader’s knowledge and that expose the inherent human desire to establish order and meaning.