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The book "The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements" by Sam Kean tells the story, or rather a mass amount of stories that tell the tale of elements as they are discovered, torn apart, and deciphered. Sam Kean tells us, the reader, where we can find the places where chemistry comes to us.
In it, Sam brings chemistry to us by referencing everyday objects. For instance, Sam shows us the history behind the very thing we use everyday and maybe even all day: silicon transistors. Sam explains the story of a young scientist who is investigating the potential to switch the mighty big vacuum transistor for a transistor designed entirely differently: a semiconductor known as germanium. He fights hard to get this working, but one of his colleges realizes that he has made a mistake with the element he chose: instead using silicon for his transistor. After this the man with the germanium fights for the title of who invented the transistor, and wins. In this story, we learn what interesting history there is that came before our awesomely powerful computers. The steps we take are just important as the steps we have already taken.
In his stories of the Nazis, Sam shows us how horrible things have happened because of our knowledge of the elements. In World War I, a chemist figured out that bromine could be used in chemical warfare on the field, and employed these strategies at war. The consequences were terrifying and brutal, all because we knew how to harness the power of the elements.
Sam also tells us how fickle chemistry can be as well when another chemist did something similar. Using various methods, the chemist had created ammonium nitrate, a chemical that is lethal to humans, and was even employed in the Nazi gas chambers. However this chemical was indeed a two faced animal, as it is also an extremely good fertilizer for fields, and is now used widely around the world.
The Disappearing Spoon was indeed a very good novel that reminded me of the various parts of human history and a particular radio show called radiolab. We do indeed need to be reminded sometimes of where chemistry meets humankind.
 

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The Disappearing Spoon is a book written by Sam Kean that tells the narrative of chemistry using the periodic table and historical events associated with each element. Sam Kean is a writer based in Washington D.C. His works have been featured in many top-tier magazines and newspapers. In particular, this book was named as one of the top science books in 2010 and has received some accolades. The main theme or purpose of this book is to analysis the periodic table by explaining the properties of the elements and putting them in a historical context. Through the historical antidotes, the characteristics, uses, and importance of the elements are shown. In addition, the stories reveal how humans interact and manipulate chemistry, for better and worse, further displaying human nature and innovation. For me, I had to read this because my chemistry teacher assigned it to my class. He did this to give the students an additional foundation for chemistry.
An argument that can be seen throughout the book is that chemistry has numerously been manipulated for war. This topic is the main focus in chapter five, “Elements in Times of War.” First of all, Kean talks about bromine and its contribution to the development and usage of chemical weapons in the World Wars. Bromine, being a rather reactive element want to obtain an octet of electrons, “shreds the weaker elements in cells, such as carbon, to get its electron fix” (82). Therefore, bromine was used as tear gas or lacrimators since it irritates the eyes and noses and displaces the senses. Then, Kean talks about Haber who invented a way to synthesize ammonia (nitrogen fixation). His innovation helped many farmers fertilize crops, increasing food production. However, Kean points out how he uses his invention for bad. Haber helped Germany build nitrogen explosives or fertilizer-distilled bombs. Lastly, Haber then used the notorious chlorine in his weapons. Chlorine, like bromine, attacks human cells but in a more vicious way. One effect of it is that it can produce fluid buildup within a person’s lung. Of course, with the help of Haber, chemical weapons progressed greatly. Zyklon A and its successor Zyklon b proved to be extremely deadly when used by the Nazis to gas the Jews. Thus, all the examples here show the negative side of humanity, the one where chemistry is manipulated for warfare and death.
Next, the race to discovering new elements fueled the Cold War as both countries tried to receive as much scientific merit. University of Cal, Berkeley was well known during the Seaborg era as one of the top scientific programs since it churned out many new elements from 97 to 103. On the other end, Cal was competing with Dubna, Russia who first found a few elements themselves. Most notably, the Dubna team first stated that they discovered 104 and 105, but they had to share credit. The constant fight for credit also led to the argument of naming the elements found. As seen in Berkelium and Californium, Cal Berk enjoys reminding everyone who found elements 97 and 98. In all, the battle to find new elements between the Cal team and Russia not only fueled the Cold War but also helped chemistry and science as a whole progress.
My last argument is that catastrophes due to lack of knowledge often lead to breakthroughs and discoveries about element properties. This theme can be seen in the Poisoner’s corridor, described by Kean, where the south right corner of the ptable contains the most poisonous and toxic elements. In one instance, in Japan, factories dumped leftover cadmium sewage into streams and the ground. As a result, the rice paddies absorbed the cadmium, affecting the public health. Farmers saw an increase in joint and deep bone pain. In one case, when a doctor inspected a girl’s wrist, it broke! As it turned out, cadmium softened bones. It replaces zinc, sulfur, and calcium in the body, starving the body of those essential minerals for proper bodily functions. The next and final example, Thallium, proved to be the most deadliest element on the table since it has the
 

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The Disappearing Spoon, written by author Sam Kean, is about the history of human chemistry and the periodic table. Sam Kean is a writer that focuses mainly on the upbringing of human knowledge, chemistry, and psychology. I was assigned to read this book by my chemistry teacher, Dr. Halkyard. I found it to be very insightful on how humans came to understand chemistry and its continuous findings to add to the periodic table. The main theme of the story is that Sam Kean is showing us the different, unique stories behind all the elements. My take on the main idea of the The Disappearing Spoon is that the book is very useful in teaching the stories behind the elements. And that they are not just elements, but unique narratives that some people have given their lives to contribute to. For example, the story of Marie Curie, her study on radioactivity, and her discovery of radium.
The introduction and chapter 1 are both significant, as they lay the groundwork for the rest of the story to be told. The next few chapters that follow are the most important of chapters. The importance of the middle chapters pushing to the later chapters also holds a great amount of significance. The last 3 chapters detail something very important to humans: the measuring system. This is extremely important, because it is the basis of how we humans go about everyday life. It describes the standard bureau, and how every country measures everything. Chapters 12-15 also include why some elements were named like they were. Some were named after people or things in ancient myths, others were named based on Greek and Latin. The whole book lists and describes scientists that contributed to the creation of today’s periodic table, even if their intent was not to expand the table.
In everyday life, we rely on the findings of many chemists and scientists. It has helped categorize things that we perceive in nature, classifying them by properties on the periodic table and giving usa better understanding of elements in nature. The knowledge of copper has helped us get through winters and provide heating, giving us advancement in the quality and standard of life. With our knowledge of the elements and how they work, the human race has created millions of combinations of medicines to help heal injuries, cure sickness, and extend life expectancy as time goes on.
Knowledge of these elements has augmented the power of the human race and upped control over the world. The human race has manipulated toxic elements for better or for worse. For example, poisonous gas was and is still used in war. Sabotage has been made all the easier, with devices like the Revigator, adding radioactivity to water. Many levels up from gaseous warfare, nuclear warfare was invented in the 1940’s by scientists to end World War II. The human race has been in the pursuit of power since power has been available to us. We have done many things and one of those things is to make man-made elements. This is a show of how we want control to our surroundings.
The knowledge of the elements and our surroundings has led to a massive advancement in scientific discovery. Surveillance has been increased through knowledge of x-rays, used to find weapons and explosives for security of all people. We understand much more about one of the smallest thing in our universe, the atom. After building and using the Large Hadron Collider, we have gained massive knowledge about how the atom moves and works. Even beyond this Earth, we study the elements, and how space works and what is outside of our normal surroundings.
The Disappearing Spoon is very useful in teaching the stories behind the elements. And that they are not just elements, but unique narratives that some people have given their lives to contribute to. These discoveries has led to even bigger discoveries, and this has pushed the human race to achieve great things. The human race has grown more creative and more intelligent with the substantial control over the elements. The scientific advancements that we have pushed ourselves to acheive
 

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In order to learn more about the periodic table and it’s many stories I read The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. Sam Kean is a scientist and author who is well known for his other science novels such as The Violinist's Thumb and The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons. The Disappearing Spoon is a novel that focuses on the periodic table and many individual elements by telling fascinating stories about their findings or discoveries made about them.
The Disappearing Spoon focuses on many different scientists and the elements they founded or expanded knowledge on. Within each chapter, Sam Kean goes in depth on an element or a small group of them by either telling a story or interesting anecdote. These accounts give us more perspective on the uses of each element and its potential to be beneficial or negative towards our world. Some of the many topics he looks at are elements being used for war, money and production. Elements like uranium hold scary powers when enriched properly and pose a scary threat to the future of our society. He also talks about why some elements are more popular than others. For instance, aluminum, which at first was extremely valuable and expensive, is now used to create some of our cheapest and most recycled items like cans. This is because one scientist developed a way to mass produce pure aluminum extremely efficiently. Stories like this provide great insight on each element and why they or may not be so relevant in our society today.
While this book is very fun and interesting, it is still quite challenging and requires focus and attentiveness while reading. I found myself rereading certain sections of the book just because some of the concepts were so complex. I found that one of the issues with the book was that without previous knowledge of the periodic table, it wasn't as easy to follow as I would've liked. This however is only a minor problem to a very good book. The Disappearing Spoon is an amazing story teller. There was almost nothing in this book that had I ever read or heard of before. New names and ideas were proposed to me throughout the reading of this novel and it kept me captivated the entire way. Sam Kean takes a topic like the periodic table, which most people would find boring, and brings it to life. He is extremely thorough in his writing but not to the point of boredom. As a student taking his first year of chemistry, this book has truly increased my interest in the subject and made me think a lot about how our world works today.
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean is a very good summary on the origin of the periodic table and the discovery of it’s elements. This book serves its best purpose for students or anyone looking to expand their knowledge in this subject. The key things that this book does well is bring the elements to a place where everyone can relate to them. By showing their real life capabilities and how most of us are affected by them without even knowing it, Sam Kean draws the reader's interest in even more. In all, I highly recommend this book for it’s ability to teach the elements in an intriguing and relatable way.
-Nick Everest
 


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