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

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

4.1 202
by Sam Kean
     
 

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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.See more details below

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Mr. Kean…[has] a big supply of odd facts and anecdotes related to the periodic table. He uses these to turn The Disappearing Spoon into a nonstop parade of lively science stories.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Science magazine reporter Kean views the periodic table as one of the great achievements of humankind, "an anthropological marvel," full of stories about our connection with the physical world. Funny, even chilling tales are associated with each element, and Kean relates many. The title refers to gallium (Ga, 31), which melts at 84°F, prompting a practical joke among "chemical cognoscenti": shape gallium into spoons, "serve them with tea, and watch as your guests recoil when their Earl Grey ‘eats’ their utensils." Along with Dmitri Mendeleyev, the father of the periodic table, Kean is in his element as he presents a parade of entertaining anecdotes about scientists (mad and otherwise) while covering such topics as thallium (Tl, 81) poisoning, the invention of the silicon (Si, 14) transistor, and how the ruthenium (Ru, 44) fountain pen point made million for the Parker company. With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surface, Kean writes with wit, flair, and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers. 10 b&w illus. (July 12)
From the Publisher
"It happens often in biology, but only once in a rare while does an author come along with the craft and the vision to capture the fun and fascination of chemistry. Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon is a pleasure and full of insights. If only I had read it before taking chemistry." —Mark Kurlanksy, author of Salt and Cod"

If you stared a little helplessly at the chart of the periodic table on the wall of your high school chemistry class, then this is the book for you. It elucidates both the meanings and the pleasures of those numbers and letters, and does so with style and dash." —Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet"

The Disappearing Spoon shines a welcome light on the beauty of the periodic table. Follow plain speaking and humorous Sam Kean into its intricate geography and stray into astronomy, biology, and history, learn of neon rain and gas warfare, meet both ruthless and selfless scientists, and before it is over fall head over heels for the anything but arcane subject of chemistry." —Bill Streever, author of Cold"

The best science writers...bring an enthusiasm for the material that infects those of us who wouldn't usually give a flying proton. Sam Kean...unpacks the periodic table's bag of tricks with such aplomb and fascination that material normally as heavy as lead transmutes into gold. With the anecdotal flourishes of Oliver Sacks and the populist accessibility of Malcolm Gladwell...Kean succeeds in giving us the cold hard facts, both human and chemical, behind the astounding phenomena without sacrificing any of the wonder—a trait vital to any science writer worth his NaCl. A-" —Entertainment Weekly"

Sam Kean...is brimming with puckish wit, and his love for the elements is downright infectious. Kean's book is so rambunctious and so much fun, you'll find yourself wanting to grab someone just to share tidbits. But the alchemy of this book is the way Kean makes you see and experience and appreciate the world differently, with a real sense of wonder and a joy of discovery, that is downright elemental." —Caroline Leavitt, Boston Globe"

This is nonfiction to make you sound smart over gin and tonics: the human history behind the periodic table." —Time.com"

Sam Kean...has done something remarkable: He's made some highly technical science accessible, placed well-known and lesser-known discoveries in the contest of history and made reading about the lives of the men and women inside the lab coats enjoyable." —Austin American-Statesman"

Fascinating. Kean has Bill Bryson's comic touch when it comes to describing genius-lunatic scientists...The book is not so much a primer in chemistry as a lively history of the elements and the characters behind their discovery." —New Scientist"

A quirky and refreshingly human look at a structure we usually think of as purely pragmatic." —SeedMagazine.com"

[The Disappearing Spoon is] crammed full of compelling anecdotes about each of the elements, plenty of nerd-gossip involving Nobel prizes, and enough political intrigue to capture the interest of the anti-elemental among us. Once you're done with this book, do your chemistry teacher and all her future students a favor, and send her a copy." —Galleycat"

Kean loves a good story, and his account teems with ripping yarns, colorful characters, and the occasional tall tale of chemical invention....let us hope that Kean...continues to bring the excitement of science out of the lab and into the homes of the American reading public." —Chemical & Engineering News"

An idiosyncratic romp through the history of science. The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell....entertaining and enlightening." —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal - Booksmack!
Kean shares the same obsessive fascination with his topic as Bryson, and his joy in his subject shows on every page of this tour of the periodic table. The book is sure to entice Bryson fans into more consuming science reading. Like Bryson and his gang of brilliant writers, Kean relates the science and history of the elements through addictive storytelling, from how lithium affected poet Robert Lowell to how Marie Curie entertained guests (she glowed). Smart, funny, and deeply involving, this book makes it hard not to become interested in the wonders of the elements. Keep Theodore Gray's The Elements at hand to add visual aids to Kean's clever stories. Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Library Journal
Kean, an award-winning freelance news and science writer, intertwines fascinating stories with biographical sketches about the scientists who contributed to the discovery of the 118 elements found in the current periodic table. From hydrogen to ununoctium, the filling out of Mendeleev's original 19th-century periodic table is a curious story of history, politics, etymology, alchemy, and mythology. Kean primarily concentrates on discoveries since the dawn of the nuclear age and postulates on elements yet to be discovered. VERDICT Aiming at a general audience with a cursory knowledge of science and chemistry, Kean writes in a whimsical yet easy-to-read style. Although he includes copious notes, his book complements rather than replaces Eric Scerri's excellent The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance. Highly recommended for public libraries and for amateur, high school, and undergraduate scientists wishing to be informed as well as entertained.—Ian D. Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
In his debut, Science magazine reporter Kean uses the periodic table as a springboard for an idiosyncratic romp through the history of science. Ranking Dmitri Mendeleev's creation of the first version of the periodic table ("one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind") alongside achievements by Darwin and Einstein, the author extends the metaphor of a geographical map to explain how the location of each element reveals its role-hydrogen and chlorine in the formation of an acid, carbon as the building block of proteins, etc.-and how gaps in the table allowed for future discoveries of new elements. Kean presents the history of science beginning with Plato, who used the Greek word for element for the first time in the belief that elements are fundamental and unchanging. The author then looks at Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for her discovery that the radioactivity of uranium was nuclear rather than chemical. Kean suggests that nuclear science not only led to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb, but was instrumental in the development of computers. The women employed by the Manhattan Project, he writes, in "hand-crunching long tables of data . . . became known by the neologism ?computers.' " The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell, including that of Fritz Haber, the chemist who developed nitrogen fertilizer and saved millions from starvation, and applied his talents in World War I to creating poison gas, despite the protests of his wife, who committed suicide. "Between hydrogen at the top left and the man-made impossibilities lurking along the bottom," writes the author, "you can find bubbles, bombs, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, poison, crime, and love. Even some science." Nearly 150 years of wide-ranging science, in fact, and Kean makes it all interesting. Entertaining and enlightening.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316051637
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
06/06/2011
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
25,243
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile:
1300L (what's this?)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Kean succeeds in giving us the cold hard facts, both human and chemical, behind the astounding phenomena without sacrificing any of the wonder—-a trait vital to any science writer worth his NaCl. A–" —-Entertainment Weekly

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