THE DISAPPEARING SPOON: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

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 ... Read full review

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Fun, interesting pop-sci read. Kean's prose style is easy to read and jovial, without being silly or annoying.

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What a book! Some of the best nonfiction I've read in quite a while. The most enthralling historical perspective on a current phenomenon since "Devil in the White City."

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(reviewed by Lee Libro for
True to its title, "The Disappearing Spoon", stirs up the otherwise pedantic world of chemistry with a bit of whimsy. This collection of anecdotal
tales all revolve around elements from the famous periodic table, which you may remember from chemistry class. Well, in my case, there was never a love connection with chemistry class. In fact, it was my least favorite class, but that's exactly why I chose Sam Kean's book. If it could rise to the challenge of winning over a non-scientific person such as myself, then surely it would be made of that literary magic which I so often refer to in my reviews.
Sam Kean met the challenge by making the periodic table, the Bunsen Burner, iodine, and other chemical elements leading stars of stories both historically significant, entertaining and, dare I say, fascinating. He sets this enthralling effort in motion with an introduction, recounting a childhood story of his experience with mercury. This flash memoir will strike a chord with anyone who ever "played" with this lethal substance. The stories that unfold from there only get better and better. With the aid of some well-known historical figures, from the ancients to the contemporary, Kean breathes life into the subject of chemistry. Find out why Gandhi hated iodine or why copper has proved the simplest, healthiest way to improve infrastructures. Find out how alchemy and the production of currency for anti-counterfeiting have evolved, or how lithium remedies some mental illnesses. Discover why Marie Curie named the first element she isolated "polonium", why her more well-known discovery, "radium" outshone it, and most of all, why people thought it healthy to drink irradiated water. Find out, also, as the title promises, how does a spoon disappear?
"The Disappearing Spoon" offers a wealth of anecdotes which enrich the subject of chemistry in a fun way, thanks to Kean's casual, often humorous, writing. I recommend this book to both serious students of chemistry as well as more right-brained thinkers who learn by visualizing the whole picture. For those who prefer art and literature over the laboratory, this collection of little known stories and facts surrounding the chemical elements provides the reader with a well-rounded balance between the arts and sciences.

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