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

Front Cover
Little, Brown, Jul 12, 2010 - Science - 400 pages
16 Reviews
From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes 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.
 

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
6
4 stars
4
3 stars
2
2 stars
0
1 star
1

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

The Stories Chemistry Tell
The Disappearing Spoon is a book by Sam Kean made up of a string of short stories which tells the past about some of the elements in the periodic table. Throughout
the short stories Sam kean explains some of the fundamentals of chemistry while adding a little bit of comedy to his short stories and fun facts about the elements he or other scientists have experienced with certain elements depending on which chapter. The purpose of this book is to bring a comedic side to the history of chemistry and it’s history.
Overall the book and it’s stories were very interesting, what really captivated me was not the facts about the element itself in his short stories but about fun things that can be done with this element. For example, the story about making a spoon out of gallium metal and watching as the spoon melts inside the teacup.Or in chapter four when he arose the question on how the elements were formed. These parts of the short stories is what gets the reader interested and it gives the reader a different perspective of chemistry even if they have never even taken a class on the subject.
What Sam kean also did very well was using several different other sources in his book from other scientists from the facts, theories, to just the fun prank stories. Back to chapter four he talks about a theory on how the elements were all formed from only hydrogen as many processes then took place to create supernovas and create more elements over time in comparison with a theory that stated that all elements already existed. He takes facts from research projects and puts them all together with stories and fun facts to make a beautiful mix of an educational yet funny book.
Another factor in Sam Kean’s book is his expression towards what he personally thinks about the elements and how he connects with chemistry as he is fascinated by it. The whole book is based around his fascination and in extreme detail why he is fascinating while along the way adding the facts. This factor makes it so that readers can relate to Sam Kean, a relation of being fascinated by something, something that makes your eyes pop out. This is probably what Sam Kean did best in his stories and the audience most definitely appreciates it as it is not boring, which is after all why people read books, for fun.
 

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Carlo Portillo Eckman
Honors Chemistry
Mr. Halkyard
Oct 29, 2016
The Disappearing Spoon Book Review
The Disappearing Spoon book was written by Sam Kean and the main theme was mostly about historical science and the periodic table. Sam Kean is not a scientist but is an author and a writer. He has written for the New York Times and has also published three books which are based on scientific discoveries in a narrative way. The thesis of the story was based upon historical science and how the periodic table was assembled, and thus the periodic table told a historical story of how each element was found and how it created an impact on whomever found it. The book as somewhat interesting but at the same time I didn’t feel a connection towards the book. By this I mean, It did not have an influence on me but was just informational.
Throughout the book the author keeps on explaining and explaining on how the periodic table was formed and in some way he also explains how each element was found. Some of the most important chapters in the book that I thought were there were the first chapter and how it was explaining how the periodic table was formed and the some of the chapters in the middle of the book (11,12,13). I think that these are some important chapters because these three chapters help explain and show the people that elements can create an impact on everyone whether it deals with money or how elements deceive people.
Sam Kean might be an author/magazine writer but he is no scientist. And I'm not saying that science books have to be written by scientists but my only speculation is that if Sam Kean really and truly new what he was talking about. The book The Disappearing Spoon was a well written and very informational book. Many parts during the book Sam Kean is giving many descriptive sentences on the periodic table and how it is related someway to a castle in its formation. This is something not many scientist I believe would describe the periodic table as. My point being, Sam Kean may have information but it's produced in ways others wouldn’t describe it as (chapter 1&2).
My last and final argument that I believe needs to be brought about is exceptional job of Sam Kean when he was describing atoms. He talked about a topic that is used in our everyday lives and relayed it in a very informational way. He talked about atoms in a total of three chapters back to back to back. Each chapter he described atoms in a very easy way for the readers to understand. The three chapters he talked about atoms were in chapters 4, 5, and 6. He made the chapters easy for everyone to understand that atoms are used and are in our everyday lives.
This book was very informational like I said but at the same time it was not a book that “connected” with me. I would recommend this book to other schools who are studying chemistry and just want to know the basis and the origin of chemistry, because Sam Kean does a substantial job of going into detail about atoms, periodic table, elements, and such.
 

All 16 reviews »

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

Sam Kean is a writer in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist. He is currently working as a 2009 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.

Bibliographic information