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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

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          The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the           The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.           We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues' wives when she'd invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history? From the Big Bang to the end of time, it's all in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.


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          The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the           The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.           We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues' wives when she'd invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history? From the Big Bang to the end of time, it's all in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.

30 review for The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Stop the search. Recall the teams. I have found the non-fiction, summer read of 2010! The Disappearing Spoon. First, what’s a summer read, Mr. Josey Wales thumbnail photo? A summer read is one you can enjoy during a vacation to the beach, with fresh cocktails and clean towels provided by the swarthy, bronzed attendant at a seafront hotel. You can finish it in a few days in bite-sized chunks, it doesn’t overpower you academically, you learn a little, and the subject is something entirely new to yo Stop the search. Recall the teams. I have found the non-fiction, summer read of 2010! The Disappearing Spoon. First, what’s a summer read, Mr. Josey Wales thumbnail photo? A summer read is one you can enjoy during a vacation to the beach, with fresh cocktails and clean towels provided by the swarthy, bronzed attendant at a seafront hotel. You can finish it in a few days in bite-sized chunks, it doesn’t overpower you academically, you learn a little, and the subject is something entirely new to you, which allows you to ‘escape’ mentally just as you are physically from that 50-hour, weekly cubicle career and hateful commuter traffic. The book catalogues the 200 year history of the piecemeal development of the periodic table in chemistry. Wait, this is not your high school chemistry class! Sam Kean uses the most idiosyncratic, unusual, serendipitous, and funny events to tell this story. You learn as much about the brilliant, boisterous, bi-polar, bastardly, and braggadocio scientists as you learn about each element on the periodic table. Each of 19 chapters pulls together several periodic elements and outlines their unexpected similarity and relatedness--atomically, quantumly and culturally. And the narrative moves fluidly back and forth through time to capture the relevant history of each element. The book highlights discoveries that are still being made, current as of late 2009. Strontium, Molybdenum, Ruthenium, Francium, Ytterbium. Neptunium, Berkelium, Californium, Lawrencium. What are you all about? How were you discovered? Why are you so important? And why the heck are you so rare? This is neat science told in a fun and effervescent way. There are some awesome, awe-inspiring, and yet sometimes pedestrian, elements out there. Science ofttimes moves forward in jumps and spurts, and Kean is quick to relate how it moves chaotically, unexpectedly, bizarrely, and accidentally. The author reviews not just core chemistry but also history, physics, cosmology, and psychology. The scientists and their Rube Goldberg experiments are as interesting as the results. Periodic elements are really cool (yes, I actually said that). They’re phenomenal, toxic, powerful, rare, ephemeral, magical, radioactive, and have the most interesting relationships to each other. We’re told why, when, and how they’ve been used and abused through history, and how they shepherded great leaps in the advancement of human civilization. The Disappearing Spoon is quick, light reading out in the sun. It handles complex theory in a comfortable, approachable way. Kean uses good rhythm in the book, chapters of uniform length, and a bit of humor to bring it all home. He pulls it off effectively--Mr Wizard meets chaos theory. Sixth grade, mall, ‘wow’-science is discussed right next to the paragraph about how to produce absolute zero or 35 million degrees, both of which, incidentally, are created by lasers. In the end, you’ll learn a little, laugh a little. You may not remember anything from this book 2 years from now, but you will retain this: elements are neat as hell, and thank goodness for chemists and physicists. New words: depilatory, eluted

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    My GR friend Jason writes sturdy and trustworthy reviews, but I must take exception with him here : The Disappearing Spoon is quick, light reading out in the sun. It handles complex theory in a comfortable, approachable way. Yes, it is all that, IF such stuff as this makes sense to you : The strongest solo acid is still the boron-based carborane (HCB11C111) And this boron acid has the best punchline so far : it's simultaneously the world's strongest and gentlest acid. To wrap your head around that, My GR friend Jason writes sturdy and trustworthy reviews, but I must take exception with him here : The Disappearing Spoon is quick, light reading out in the sun. It handles complex theory in a comfortable, approachable way. Yes, it is all that, IF such stuff as this makes sense to you : The strongest solo acid is still the boron-based carborane (HCB11C111) And this boron acid has the best punchline so far : it's simultaneously the world's strongest and gentlest acid. To wrap your head around that, remember that acids split into positive and negative parts. In carborane's case you get H+ and an elaborate cagelike structure formed by everything else (CB11C111-) With most acids it's the negative portion that's corrosive and caustic and eats through the skin. But the boron cage forms one of the most stable molecules ever invented. Its boron atoms share electrons so generously that it practically becomes helium, and it won't go around ripping electrons from other atoms, the usual cause of acidic carnage. Well, this could be part of the rules of Quidditch for all the sense it makes to poor general reader me, so I think The Disappearing Spoon is really for science geeks who think stuff about German chemists being hornswoggled out of a Nobel Prize for Alchemy by some Californian sharpies in 1951 or a neat account of the crucial properties of the biomolecule which are called handedness is the very thing for those moments on the beach when there isn't any eye candy around.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Okay. Let me tell it to you honestly. This book is not the most well written book - the sentences are clunky and there is not a clear narrative. It is much more of a rambling collection of stories and facts and quirky science knowledge. That said, I couldn't get back to reading this fast enough. I thought about a book about the scientific table throughout the day. I stole a few minutes wherever I could. I carried this book with me and was even *gasp* early to pick up the kids so that I could read Okay. Let me tell it to you honestly. This book is not the most well written book - the sentences are clunky and there is not a clear narrative. It is much more of a rambling collection of stories and facts and quirky science knowledge. That said, I couldn't get back to reading this fast enough. I thought about a book about the scientific table throughout the day. I stole a few minutes wherever I could. I carried this book with me and was even *gasp* early to pick up the kids so that I could read a few minutes in the car. I mean, the opening factoid is about our ability to trace Lewis & Clark's trail by following the mercury laced poop trail. I love that shit. Growing up, I never loved science. I didn't learn the periodic table in school like others did. And so, there were times in this book, where I only understood a few clauses in each paragraph because the concepts were so advanced, but the author did a great job of bringing it back to a laypersons' comprehension in the next paragraph. So, in summary, this book is written for all levels of science (or not) nerds. It is full of incredible tales and the fun secrets and stories of the people involved in the development of the periodic table (and science as we know it). I will absolutely be rereading this book - most definitely when the boys are learning the periodic table in school.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Vegan

    This is an absolutely brilliant idea for a book and it’s a superb book. It’s beautifully organized and well written. It’s a wonderful way to learn and/or deepen knowledge of chemistry. This book is fine for laypeople, but will give meaning and extra enjoyment even for advanced chemistry students. Much appreciated by me was that the information imparted was over my head only a very few times, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve never taken a chemistry class. This book covers the elements of the This is an absolutely brilliant idea for a book and it’s a superb book. It’s beautifully organized and well written. It’s a wonderful way to learn and/or deepen knowledge of chemistry. This book is fine for laypeople, but will give meaning and extra enjoyment even for advanced chemistry students. Much appreciated by me was that the information imparted was over my head only a very few times, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve never taken a chemistry class. This book covers the elements of the periodic table via its history and by telling stories about the various elements: their history of discovery, how they’ve been used at various times, various people who found ways to make use of them. Anyone with a smidgen of curiosity about any aspect of life should find many things here that they find interesting. So many subjects are covered including astronomy, war, South Pole exploration, health and illness and poisoning, history, other sciences, the personalities of those who have contributed to the findings in the field, and so much more. It’s jam packed with useful facts and enjoyable stories. The relevance of the elements (chemistry) in everyday life is made so clear. There are many lovely digressions that turn out not to be digressions at all. There were very amusing parts, including funny quips that frequently pop up, and all of those quips have substance. It has a sort of gossipy (in a good way) tone. I learned so much. I found out that I love Linus Pauling and many other scientists who’ve contributed to the field. I was surprised how much of what’s been discovered in the field of chemistry has been done fairly recently, and how it’s still a growing, living scientific endeavor. While I’ve always been interested in science, and I did want a chemistry set when I was a child (request denied), I knew deplorably little about chemistry. Like the author, I loved playing with growing balls of mercury from broken thermometers. Quite a few of the elements themselves were, of course, familiar to me, but I didn’t know much about them. I had a bit of chemistry in other college science classes and in nutrition class. As I read, I frequently wished I’d memorized the table before reading this book. There is a table of the elements in the back of the book but it includes abbreviations only; it is not embellished; there is no list of elements by name next to it. However, in the index, thankfully, the elements are listed in bold, and I referred to that index at the beginning of every chapter when some elements were listed, in what looked to me like unusual Scrabble tiles. I read the notes as I read along, and they were easy to find because they started with page number and beginning of phrase in bold as a match their section in the book, but I’d still rather they’d have been included in the text proper to make the information even easier to read and to make it flow more smoothly. This book should be part of every beginning chemistry class. It makes the subject so interesting. This is certainly not the only attempt to make chemistry a great deal of fun for everyone. The book mentions the Tom Lehrer song, The Elements (which can be seen in many places including here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYW50F...). I really enjoyed this book, although I did end up reading it slowly, and I did take one break to read the young adult novel Mockingjay, which I’d been waiting to read for nearly a year. This is a gem of a book and such a great idea. I adored the humor, and there was a lot of it. I’ll let readers see for themselves why the book’s title is what it is. I hope that Sam Kean (or someone) writes similar books about physics, mathematics, etc. etc. I would definitely read them if they were as clever as this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K

    There's a certain type of goodreads troll -- the one who defends their beloved book by saying something like, "Well, if you knew the topic didn't interest you why were you stupid enough to pick up the book?" To that goodreads troll I now have an answer: this book. If you had told me a few weeks ago that I'd find a book about chemistry and the periodic table of elements difficult to put down, I'd have had a hard time believing you. But I did. This book was funny, interesting, even gripping at time There's a certain type of goodreads troll -- the one who defends their beloved book by saying something like, "Well, if you knew the topic didn't interest you why were you stupid enough to pick up the book?" To that goodreads troll I now have an answer: this book. If you had told me a few weeks ago that I'd find a book about chemistry and the periodic table of elements difficult to put down, I'd have had a hard time believing you. But I did. This book was funny, interesting, even gripping at times, and always engaging. I took off a star because I'll admit that I didn't get all of it despite the author's best efforts. I guess it would take more than a fun book to turn me into a chemistry person. But it was still a wonderful read, and not a guilty pleasure because it was actually educational. This meant I could feel virtuous for once while I ignored my various responsibilities in favor of more reading. So not only did I get to enjoy a good book, I feel vindicated in my ongoing belief that a a sufficiently good writer can make any topic interesting, even to a reluctant reader. Yes – sometimes it pays to leave your reading comfort zone. And when it doesn’t, you have every right to complain because it is about the book, not just about a personal bias with regard to the content. For a good book, there should be no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” reader.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    This does for the periodic table what I am always trying to do for math....link the science to the historical events, the people, and the economics that push scientific discoveries. I was fascinated by the many details about the hunt for elements, the private lives of the Curies, the radioactive boy scout, the dangers of storing rare elements in the Congo, and that the same man who invented nitrogen rich fertilizers, is also the inventor of zyklon B. It also made me want to read more about The M This does for the periodic table what I am always trying to do for math....link the science to the historical events, the people, and the economics that push scientific discoveries. I was fascinated by the many details about the hunt for elements, the private lives of the Curies, the radioactive boy scout, the dangers of storing rare elements in the Congo, and that the same man who invented nitrogen rich fertilizers, is also the inventor of zyklon B. It also made me want to read more about The Manhattan Project, so I guess its time to put the Rhodes book on my wishlist.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This book took me 76 days, or almost three months, to read. In this case, I needed all seventy-six individual days to work my brain through passages like this one: For instance, thirteen aluminium atoms grouped together in the right way do a killer bromine: the two entities are indistinguishable in chemical reactions. This happens despite the cluster being thirteen times larger than a single bromine atom and despite aluminium being nothing like the lacrimatory poison-gas staple ... The clusters This book took me 76 days, or almost three months, to read. In this case, I needed all seventy-six individual days to work my brain through passages like this one: For instance, thirteen aluminium atoms grouped together in the right way do a killer bromine: the two entities are indistinguishable in chemical reactions. This happens despite the cluster being thirteen times larger than a single bromine atom and despite aluminium being nothing like the lacrimatory poison-gas staple ... The clusters work like this. The atoms arrange themselves into a three-dimensional polyhedron, and each atom in it mimics a proton and a neutron in a collective nucleus. The caveat is that electrons can flow around inside this soft nucleic blob, and the atoms share the electrons collectively. Scientists wryly call this state of matter "jellium." All you need to know is that I'm sort of an idiot. If you read the above passage and thought, "This makes perfect sense! What an appropriate way to explain jellium, a state I've always been interested in!", then you are less of an idiot than me and will probably enjoy this book very much. To give more context, here's how much of an idiot I am: when I took physics at Stanford (on the way to my successful minor! ha!), I had a lot of trouble with electricity and optics. To study, I did literally every single problem from those chapters, and I did the word problems multiple times. When I got to the final, I immediately recognized one of the problems I had done at least four times, was jubilant for about 2 seconds, and then realized I had absolutely no idea how to do it. (I think I only got half credit.) That is how good I am at squashing scientific concepts into my brain. On the positive side, I find all of this very interesting, and because I forget it so quickly, I have a lifetime of renewed discoveries ahead of me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I'm going to have to stop saying that I don't like non fiction. This is the 3rd "science ish" book I have enjoyed recently. This was an interesting look at history as told thru the periodic table. I can't really speak to the accuracy of the science but I really enjoyed reading all the tales. I recognized a lot of the science names but learned some knew things about them. The parts I found the most interesting were how great an effect WWII had on science and scientists and the parts about mental I'm going to have to stop saying that I don't like non fiction. This is the 3rd "science ish" book I have enjoyed recently. This was an interesting look at history as told thru the periodic table. I can't really speak to the accuracy of the science but I really enjoyed reading all the tales. I recognized a lot of the science names but learned some knew things about them. The parts I found the most interesting were how great an effect WWII had on science and scientists and the parts about mental health and brain health. I listened to the audio narrated very ably by Seaan Runnette.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius." I can't really speak to the scientific accuracy of this book, but I really enjoyed listening to the stories that come from the periodic table. I feel like I learned some things, which isn't that difficult of a feat since what I remember from my high school chemistry class has more to do with the people sitting near me (we called ourselves the Peanut Gallery). I have vague memories of a teacher, the great Thorstein Sabo, who tried to teach us "Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius." I can't really speak to the scientific accuracy of this book, but I really enjoyed listening to the stories that come from the periodic table. I feel like I learned some things, which isn't that difficult of a feat since what I remember from my high school chemistry class has more to do with the people sitting near me (we called ourselves the Peanut Gallery). I have vague memories of a teacher, the great Thorstein Sabo, who tried to teach us about the periodic table by telling us stories about electrons playing cribbage in the electron hotel. I didn't really get it. This book groups different elements, and tells stories about them in context of political intrigue, devastating consequences, and lifesaving discoveries. Coincidentally, I am also reading Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, a book with a lot of parallels to The Disappearing Spoon. Where The Disappearing Spoon demonstrates how war interrupts scientific process, Rites of Spring shows the same about war interfering in the arts. You have to wonder how much farther, or at least different, both science and the arts would be, had we never had the world wars consuming the first half of the twentieth century. The tiny pieces of information I didn't know would fill a book, this book. It would be impossible to even recite them, but I particularly enjoyed the story of argyria, silver poisoning, and the senate/governor hopeful who drank collodial silver in preparation for Y2K. Argyria turns your skin blue... permanently. Papa smurf! I also made a note to myself to check out the poet Lowell, who is one of the first people to be treated with Lithium for mental illness. Salt (not an element) was also put into perspective with Ghandi and enforced iodine and I just don't know whether to be grateful that my government is preventing birth defects or to be freaked out that they are adding things like iodine to salt and fluoride to the water. The audiobook was great for this. Sean Runnette has a unique voice that I enjoyed in zombie stories but still translated well to science! I will leave you with a song I could not get out of my head during my listen to the second half of the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    Dissolving two noble medals before the nazis arrive Description: Incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table. Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?* The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating Dissolving two noble medals before the nazis arrive Description: Incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table. Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?* The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery--from the Big Bang through the end of time. *Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear. Part I, Orientation: Column by Column, Row by Row ✓1. Geography Is Destiny 2. Near Twins and Black Sheep: The Genealogy of Elements 3. The Galapagos of the Periodic Table Part II, Making Atoms, Breaking Atoms 4. Where Atoms Come From: We Are All Made of Star Stuff 5. Elements in Times of War 6. Completing the Table . . . with a Bang 7. Extending the Table, Expanding the Cold War Part III, Periodic Confusion: The Emergence of Complexity 8. From Physics to Biology 9. Poisoners' Corridor Ouch! Ouch! 10. Take Two Elements, Call Me in the Morning 11. How Elements Deceive Part IV, The Elements of Human Character 12. Political Elements 13. Elements as Money 14. Artistic Elements 15. An Element of Madness Part V, Element Science Today and Tomorrow 16. Chemistry Way, Way Below Zero 17. Spheres of Splendor: The Science of Bubbles 18. Tools of Ridiculous Precision 19. Above (and Beyond) the Periodic Table

  11. 4 out of 5

    rmn

    I should have liked this book more and I can't really explain why I didn't. It's not poorly written (though it ain't Solzhenitsyn) and it's not that uninteresting of a topic, but I just found that after the first 40ish pages, I dreaded having to read more. It was like pulling teeth, only a bit less painful, even without the option of novocaine. I think part of it was that the book wasn't well organized. The author seemed to jump around the periodic table at his whim without keeping a consistent f I should have liked this book more and I can't really explain why I didn't. It's not poorly written (though it ain't Solzhenitsyn) and it's not that uninteresting of a topic, but I just found that after the first 40ish pages, I dreaded having to read more. It was like pulling teeth, only a bit less painful, even without the option of novocaine. I think part of it was that the book wasn't well organized. The author seemed to jump around the periodic table at his whim without keeping a consistent framework (perhaps that was the point, it was a bit unclear to me). Anyway, the writing is OKish enough and it is certainly very well researched, so I can understand why many people have liked it. And it's really not a bad science book, but for some reason I just found myself having a viscerally negative reaction to having to read the next chapter (well I guess I didn't have to keep reading on, but whatever). I don't know, I wish I could pinpoint the source of my discontent with this, but it is what it is, so feel free to try it out for yourself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    This book constipated my reading for almost a month. I have overdue fines from other books that were stacked up behind it. Not because I wasn't enjoying the book: it's readable, fascinating, and chock full of the very anecdotes about science and scientists that I love. So then, why the hell did I find this book so hard? It's precisely because the book is a collection of anecdotes that it was so hard to read. I felt like I was trying to grasp quicksilver (mercury, symbol Hg from Latin hydragyrum, This book constipated my reading for almost a month. I have overdue fines from other books that were stacked up behind it. Not because I wasn't enjoying the book: it's readable, fascinating, and chock full of the very anecdotes about science and scientists that I love. So then, why the hell did I find this book so hard? It's precisely because the book is a collection of anecdotes that it was so hard to read. I felt like I was trying to grasp quicksilver (mercury, symbol Hg from Latin hydragyrum, meaning “water silver”) as this steady diet of atomic information arrived. Actually, that's a lousy metaphor: quicksilver is a glistening hypnotic liquid because its atoms stick together. These atomic anecdotes didn't: nothing stuck in my head, nothing stuck to each other. There was no overall organizing principle to the book that I could divine, and reluctantly I finished it barely the wiser than I begun. This book demands flashcards. I want to know the anecdotes. I want them to stick. I am going to have to work at it, however, beyond simply reading the book, if that is to happen.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Okay I will start by saying this is a fascinating book but you will need some understanding of the periodic table and chemistry - now I am not saying you need to be degree level but it will make some of the references a little easier to spot and the importance of some of the statements just that little more dramatic. That said and I have read a number of chemistry books both for fun and for academic reasons (yes okay I am chemist) but I did like how the author approached the subject of each chap Okay I will start by saying this is a fascinating book but you will need some understanding of the periodic table and chemistry - now I am not saying you need to be degree level but it will make some of the references a little easier to spot and the importance of some of the statements just that little more dramatic. That said and I have read a number of chemistry books both for fun and for academic reasons (yes okay I am chemist) but I did like how the author approached the subject of each chapter. I will admit that it did sort of follow a formula in that he would explain the focus of the chapter (which element or family of elements) a long with hints of entertaining stories and anecdotes. He would then go back to these stories and explain them further - with the idea that he would reinforce the message of each chapter. So I guess you would have the technical scholarly part followed by the humorous and entertaining story. For me I thought this was a great way of bringing the message home without either being boring or overbearing. This is a great book for those interested in chemistry. Yes by the nature of the book it focuses on the elements and little of their compounds (although it does talk about their chemistries) but its a great launch pad in to further studies

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ginger K

    So far, not so great. The degree of anthropomorphizing of atoms in the introductory chapters has left me completely puzzled about the actual science involved. I have no idea what it means that oxygen is "a bully." Does oxygen shake down other atoms for electrons? How does that even work? However, the chapter on chemical warfare has been (disturbing but) interesting. If the rest of the book is historical-figures character-driven, rather than atomic character-driven, then my overall opinion of the So far, not so great. The degree of anthropomorphizing of atoms in the introductory chapters has left me completely puzzled about the actual science involved. I have no idea what it means that oxygen is "a bully." Does oxygen shake down other atoms for electrons? How does that even work? However, the chapter on chemical warfare has been (disturbing but) interesting. If the rest of the book is historical-figures character-driven, rather than atomic character-driven, then my overall opinion of the book should improve. Ugh, spoke too soon. Most of the chapter discusses chemical warfare in Europe around the World Wars. Therefore, most of the chapter is about named individuals -- chemists and soldiers and heads of state. And then one gets to the last four pages which are about how the cell phone industry's demand for niobium and tantalum fed the war in the Congo... a war which is all tribalism and ancient grudges (unlike Europe's wars?). "Gruesome stories have circulated about proud victors humiliating their victims' bodies by draping themselves with entrails and dancing in celebration." Lurid detail, but with no names, no location, no citations. I wish I were kidding. Gruesome stories circulated about 'the Hun' during the war, too, but I didn't see those stories getting a whole lot of coverage in this science book and for good reason -- so why are the stories about Congolese atrocities getting uncritically repeated here? And then to just win at post-colonialism, he unironically quotes Joseph Conrad, who "once called Congo, 'the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human consceince,' and there's little reason to revise that notion today." Thank you ever so much for perpetuating the stereotypical images of the Dark Continent, images which don't need revising despite being a hundred years out of date.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Max

    In a breezy style, Kean intersperses chemistry and physics with a potpourri of stories revolving around the elements. He explains how the elements formed and how they were discovered. He blends complex science and human interest in his examples of how the elements have been used and influenced history. Kean transitions quickly from deep discussions of atomic structure or quantum mechanics to oddities such as the nutcase who turned blue eating silver because he thought there would be no antibioti In a breezy style, Kean intersperses chemistry and physics with a potpourri of stories revolving around the elements. He explains how the elements formed and how they were discovered. He blends complex science and human interest in his examples of how the elements have been used and influenced history. Kean transitions quickly from deep discussions of atomic structure or quantum mechanics to oddities such as the nutcase who turned blue eating silver because he thought there would be no antibiotics after Y2K. Kean tries to make difficult concepts comprehensible such as the fine structure constant and why it is so fundamental to our understanding of the universe. He also fills his book with obscure facts such as how many ounces of the element astatine there are on the earth. The answer is one. And if you find it, it will be gone before you can do anything with it. Kean serves up tidbits of the lives of the scientists including their personal and professional quirks and claims to fame. He focuses on the developers of the periodic table from Mendeleev who is credited with the original to Glenn Seaborg whose discoveries of super heavy elements expanded it. We learn about Linus Pauling’s unraveling of the structure of protein and his misguided attempt to be the first to crack the structure of DNA. Crick and Watson cagily won that race. He discusses the discovery of quantum mechanics from Max Planck’s initial findings about the spectral distribution of black body radiation to Einstein’s concept of energy as a particle and on through Bohr, Heisenberg and others. These are just a few of the brief vignettes of famous scientists in Kean’s book. The Disappearing Spoon is full of good stuff for those who want their science lightened up by entertaining sidebars. It’s a bit of a teaser. Kean gives you just enough to get interested in a topic. So I found myself frequently going on line or considering getting something more in depth. The book’s diversity makes it a great way to find something new you might want to know more about. It’s also the perfect book for readers with short attention spans.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is quite an entertaining read. It is packed with interesting anecdotes about scientists who explored the outer fringes of the periodic table. I even learned a little bit of chemistry. The book is organized in an intelligent manner--each chapter is devoted to some theme, with a small group of elements that fit into that theme in some way. Sometimes the author strays from the exploration of elements, but he always seems to relate to the chapter's theme. The only thing that puts me off a This book is quite an entertaining read. It is packed with interesting anecdotes about scientists who explored the outer fringes of the periodic table. I even learned a little bit of chemistry. The book is organized in an intelligent manner--each chapter is devoted to some theme, with a small group of elements that fit into that theme in some way. Sometimes the author strays from the exploration of elements, but he always seems to relate to the chapter's theme. The only thing that puts me off a bit, is the author's style. It is a rather folksy style, where the words "um", "well", and "friggin" can be found in the middle of a sentence.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    This book was lots of fun, and it certainly taught me more than I ever learned in high school chemistry class. Quite honestly, if someone had asked me for a definition of "chemistry" before, I don't think I would have known what to say. At the same time, The Disappearing Spoon wasn't like a lecture in the least bit, and instead folded tons of scientific information into stories about the scientists and their accomplishments. I'd recommend it to anyone who's curious about a subject they may have This book was lots of fun, and it certainly taught me more than I ever learned in high school chemistry class. Quite honestly, if someone had asked me for a definition of "chemistry" before, I don't think I would have known what to say. At the same time, The Disappearing Spoon wasn't like a lecture in the least bit, and instead folded tons of scientific information into stories about the scientists and their accomplishments. I'd recommend it to anyone who's curious about a subject they may have only encountered at the 101 level.

  18. 4 out of 5

    DeAnna Knippling

    Many tales from the trenches of chemistry and physics - including who was sleeping with who, who was screwing who over, and who totally slept through the most controversial parts of a new theory criticizing the one they came up with. An entertaining read about why the periodic table is so curiously important.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Woodge

    This book was an interesting compendium of stories linking up the various elements of the Periodic Table. Not only did I learn about the various scientists who discovered this or that element, but I learned a good deal about many of the elements themselves. It was entertaining enough that I kept coming back to it to read more. I've got a much better understanding now of elements and what makes them differ from each other. And I didn't even realize that elements can change (or decay) into other e This book was an interesting compendium of stories linking up the various elements of the Periodic Table. Not only did I learn about the various scientists who discovered this or that element, but I learned a good deal about many of the elements themselves. It was entertaining enough that I kept coming back to it to read more. I've got a much better understanding now of elements and what makes them differ from each other. And I didn't even realize that elements can change (or decay) into other elements. Never really thought about it, I guess. Now I know how it can happen (though not every element does this.) Lots of cool facts and odd stories about odd scientists are embedded in this book. Recommended for anyone interested in science, especially those without a Ph.D. It's rocks for jocks.

  20. 4 out of 5

    flaminia

    è scritto così chiaro e scorrevole che ho capito perfino io e nei quaranta minuti successivi alla fine della lettura mi sono sentita marie curie.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Landerman

    Read this book. Read it twice.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ian Tregillis

    This is a rare specimen among the books I tend to read: a two-bookmark book. I was skeptical when this first came to my attention. I grew up reading any and every science-related book I could find. My early fascination with books about science -- particularly chemistry and physics -- led, many years later, to my day job career. (I also blame Dr. Who for this, but that's a longer story.) But it was a long road, and not surprisingly along the way I lost my enthusiasm for reading books about scienc This is a rare specimen among the books I tend to read: a two-bookmark book. I was skeptical when this first came to my attention. I grew up reading any and every science-related book I could find. My early fascination with books about science -- particularly chemistry and physics -- led, many years later, to my day job career. (I also blame Dr. Who for this, but that's a longer story.) But it was a long road, and not surprisingly along the way I lost my enthusiasm for reading books about science topics in my spare time. I always have, and always will, love the fact that people are writing and reading them. But somewhere, along the way to becoming an adult, the stuff I used to love as a kid started to feel like... homework. Like taking my work home with me. I thought a book filled with strange anecdotes related to the Periodic Table sounded like a terrific idea for folks that would be interested in such things. But that I would not be one of those people. This, in spite of the fact that when I was much younger (before I finally got to learn about all the stuff I wanted to learn) I used to spend hours staring at the Periodic Table, studying it, trying and failing to unpack its arcane secrets. (And yet somehow I'd completely forgotten about that until I read this book. This book deserves four stars just on the basis of helping me remember this.) Eventually I learned about the mathematics of atoms, and how this gives rise to the Periodic Table. And it was glorious. But then I grew up. Life as an adult is heavy on the mortgage payments, lighter on the soul-stirring wonderment. So, yeah. I figured I didn't need to read a book about the table because I already knew how it worked. It's still true I didn't need to read this book, but the 10-year-old inside me sure did. I'm glad I listened to him. Sam Kean (who, judging from his photo on the rear flap, could be a friend's lost twin) adopts a casual, easygoing tone, which keeps the book easily readable, even when the subject matter might become dry in less capable hands. He touches on the scientific underpinnings of the subject when necessary yet never gets bogged down in the weeds. And though he glosses over the details in places (as is the only right thing to do in a book like this) his explanations make for clear, concise distillations of the subject matter. Never did I find myself tempted to skim, even when I was familiar with the background details. I'd heard a few of the stories in this book, but only a few, and those I'd either misremembered or learned incorrectly in the first place. Much of the information in this book was new to me, but all of it was fascinating. This is much more than a book about the elements and the table upon which they reside; it's also a book about the people who discovered them, loved them, hated them, yearned for them, tried to recreate them. As such, it's filled with remarkable and fascinating tidbits. I didn't know that exposure to tellurium can make a person reek like garlic. I didn't know that beryllium tastes like sugar. (Where I work, the eating of beryllium is discouraged.) I didn't know about the World War I fight over a nearly defunct mine in Colorado. I didn't know that Fritz Haber was such an epic tool. I didn't know that the "S" of the BCS theory of superconductivity went to prison. Much of the most fascinating and entertaining material is tucked away in extensive footnotes. The footnote section is worth reading just on its own. The author clearly couldn't resist including many of the little tidbits he'd learned in the course of his research. But rather than breaking the logical development of each section with a tangential anecdote, he leaves the digressions to the footnote section. This section is worth reading just on its own. The notes appear so frequently that I needed two bookmarks, so that I could flip back and forth between the body text and the footnotes section. If you do decide to pick this up, absolutely do not skip the footnotes. Some of the best stuff is in there. Much of it isn't strictly related to the periodic table, but it's golden just the same. The book is organized logically, following the first attempts to classify the elements through to cutting-edge speculations about the "island of stability", quantum dots, and other current topics. Each chapter is organized around a theme -- Elements in Times of War, Elements as Money, The Elements of Madness, Poisoner's Corner, etc. The narrative thread of each chapter weaves its way through multiple boxes on the periodic table. (In a lovely piece of book design, the periodic table entries for the relevant elements appear at the top of each chapter.) Kean does an enviable job of developing each chapter logically, and deserves much credit for finding such clean paths through what could have become thickets. In a few places, the narrative's relationship to the chapter theme felt a little forced. But the information along the way is so fun, and presented so well, that I never cared.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    This book takes a monumental topic -- the periodic table -- and breaks it down into various digestible topic areas. While I enjoyed it (and learned a lot of history of science trivia I'd been unaware of, what with my head stuck in the 18th century) and had a few "a-ha" moments as some organic chemistry concepts FINALLY made sense to me (14 years after my last ochem class), I have two big problems with the book. -1 star because the book needed editing. Badly. Kean's writing is usually OK, but som This book takes a monumental topic -- the periodic table -- and breaks it down into various digestible topic areas. While I enjoyed it (and learned a lot of history of science trivia I'd been unaware of, what with my head stuck in the 18th century) and had a few "a-ha" moments as some organic chemistry concepts FINALLY made sense to me (14 years after my last ochem class), I have two big problems with the book. -1 star because the book needed editing. Badly. Kean's writing is usually OK, but sometimes forced, folksy, and pedantic. I could go from enjoyment to annoyance to wanting to throw it across the room and/or get out my red pen. -1 star because there is no comprehensive bibliography, which is a cardinal sin in a book about science, just a short list of books. I have no doubt he did a lot of research, but there should be *some* accountability. Instead, in endnotes, there are more folksy stories (that require flipping to the back of the book to read, and which were usually only tangential and not particularly interesting footnotes to the main story, meaning the flow was disrupted for no good reason). In any case: interesting topic, good stories, only OK execution, and little authorial accountability. I really can't see myself reading anything Kean writes in the future unless he cites his sources and drops the folksy facade.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sandi

    I'm going to start out saying that Lisa wrote a great review of this book. As a book, this book is absolutely wonderful. It makes chemistry and physics comprehensible and fun. I listened to it in audio and thought the narrator did a fantastic job with it. He actually made the jokes sound funny. He knew what tone the author was striving for and he hit it spot-on. However, I think I ended up missing a lot by listening rather than reading. The book is so packed full of fun facts and numbers and, of I'm going to start out saying that Lisa wrote a great review of this book. As a book, this book is absolutely wonderful. It makes chemistry and physics comprehensible and fun. I listened to it in audio and thought the narrator did a fantastic job with it. He actually made the jokes sound funny. He knew what tone the author was striving for and he hit it spot-on. However, I think I ended up missing a lot by listening rather than reading. The book is so packed full of fun facts and numbers and, of course, references to the periodic table. I'm sure there were charts and diagrams I just didn't get in an audiobook. Plus, my attention would wander and I would completely lose track of what was being discussed. I think I'm going to get a copy of this when it comes out in paperback. It will be worth having around the house, especially when my son takes Chemistry next year.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements. I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am bio The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements. I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am biology. Even organic chemistry. I should be, but, alas. So I found that this dragged a bit — for me. It’d probably be unfair to assume it’d drag for you as well, if you’re actually a fan of chemistry. Originally reviewed on my blog.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    A fun read. For a further review: http://susannag.booklikes.com/post/43... .

  27. 5 out of 5

    Corinne Edwards

    The subtitle of this book is: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. The Periodic Table! Chemistry! How could I possibly be completely enthralled by such a book? How could I dare give it five stars when I wasn't able to truly understand a lot of what I read? Because of the writing, pure and simple. Kean makes chemistry accessible for the willing-to-make-an-intellectual-effort layperson - but it's not just the chemistry. It's the The subtitle of this book is: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. The Periodic Table! Chemistry! How could I possibly be completely enthralled by such a book? How could I dare give it five stars when I wasn't able to truly understand a lot of what I read? Because of the writing, pure and simple. Kean makes chemistry accessible for the willing-to-make-an-intellectual-effort layperson - but it's not just the chemistry. It's the characters BEHIND the chemistry, the stories of their discoveries and the things they overlooked. It's about the politics and the culture and the drama of the creation of that little set of boxes that we're all so familiar with. I was fascinated. I have found myself sharing little anecdotes with my (yes, young) children and my friends. I pulled out the book at dinner tonight and had to tell the story of that "disappearing spoon" to everyone at the table. I loved the history, both in our modern world and the earth itself. It feels like this knowledge is so essential to human life, that these things he is talking about are, literally, at the root of what we're all made of and Kean is just able to share that information in an interesting and not-your-stuffy-old-professor style. Yes, there is a lot of science in there, but don't be scared though. You can still get so much out of the stories if you're willing to let yourself gloss over the really deep stuff and just glean as much out of it as you can. I'm going to return my copy to the library and then buy my own, so I can read parts of it again. I liked it that much.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Minli

    Entertaining read--and a fascinating subject matter. I'm definitely the right audience for this book: someone who knows some chemistry but didn't get any higher degrees in it, and is more interested in the historical, cultural building of the periodic table than the hard science. Kean's wry prose never lets you forget that his point of view is subjective and conversational: he paints caricatures of famous scientists and makes ridiculous analogies. His audience is undoubtedly American. He does his Entertaining read--and a fascinating subject matter. I'm definitely the right audience for this book: someone who knows some chemistry but didn't get any higher degrees in it, and is more interested in the historical, cultural building of the periodic table than the hard science. Kean's wry prose never lets you forget that his point of view is subjective and conversational: he paints caricatures of famous scientists and makes ridiculous analogies. His audience is undoubtedly American. He does his best to explain concepts (some of which I still remembered!) in layman's terms, though I kind of dozed off at the discussion of alpha. He does a good job giving awesome lady scientists their due, like Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, Maria Groppert-Mayer and Marie Curie. I learned a bunch of things, how thallium is the worst ever poison (the poisoner's poison) and that cobalt-60 is the dirtiest and worst ever a-bomb. The structuring of the elements grouped into chapters, chapters grouped into parts, gave the book a flow and rhythm. It might have benefited from a longer conclusion. This book has made me feel like the biggest dork ever, because when people mention some element now, I have to squash the impulse to say, "Hey! Did you know that..." The Disappearing Spoon also showed to me what my chemistry, biology and physics teachers in high school and college never did: how magical, weird, wonderful, temperamental, dangerous and dramatic science can be, how they're heterogeneously mixed with Romance and politics. I wish I'd had this book in high school.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Craig Cottingham

    I was a chemical engineering major in college, so some of the background information (like the basics of the periodic table) was familiar to me and therefore a little tedious to read. Outside of that, however, this was a fascinating book that I think would be accessible to non-beakerheads. Each chapter is devoted to a group of elements that are related. Instead of going for the obvious groupings (the inert gasses, the halogens, etc.) he comes at them from a refreshingly sideways direction. There' I was a chemical engineering major in college, so some of the background information (like the basics of the periodic table) was familiar to me and therefore a little tedious to read. Outside of that, however, this was a fascinating book that I think would be accessible to non-beakerheads. Each chapter is devoted to a group of elements that are related. Instead of going for the obvious groupings (the inert gasses, the halogens, etc.) he comes at them from a refreshingly sideways direction. There's a chapter on poisons (from the obvious like arsenic, to thallium, which was responsible for thousands of deaths from contaminated groundwater in Japan) and another on measurements (from the international standard kilogram, which is an ingot of iridium, to the cesium-powered atomic clocks which define the international standard second). Each one reads a little like an episode of James Burke's TV series Connections, the way the discussion of one element blends into another. Sometimes the connections and the groupings are a little contrived, but not jarringly so, and I'm sure it was necessary to avoid a "here are all the elements that didn't fit in anywhere else" chapter. Highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    There’s a lot packed into this book. I enjoyed the look of the history of the periodic table; how it got started, the changes made over time, the discoveries of elements. Intermingled are the stories of the people; the scientists who figured things out and made things happen. Intertwined yet again are the stories of the theory and workings of atoms; what makes them tick, what makes them unique, what makes them react. Then there’s all those scientists; some humorous, some deceitful or crazy for f There’s a lot packed into this book. I enjoyed the look of the history of the periodic table; how it got started, the changes made over time, the discoveries of elements. Intermingled are the stories of the people; the scientists who figured things out and made things happen. Intertwined yet again are the stories of the theory and workings of atoms; what makes them tick, what makes them unique, what makes them react. Then there’s all those scientists; some humorous, some deceitful or crazy for fame. I really enjoyed the bit about the periodic table in the future and how the table if ever-changing and expanding. This is a wonderful book for those who enjoy chemistry, physics and anything “earthy”.

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