Very entertaining book about the periodic table of elements. I loved the way Kean connected so many fields here, from astrophysics to biology to the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, through events and people involved in the structuring of the table and the discovery and use of the various elements themselves. Great narration too.
One note: in all that I have read about Robert Falcon Scott's last Antarctic expedition, I have never heard it said that Titus Oates (unnamed in this book) "went insane and wandered off." That's a very misleading (and, from everything I've read, incorrect) discription of what actually happened, and even though it's just sort of a throw-away statement in the story Kean was telling here, it made me wonder what else he sort of...tweaked...to make things sound more dramatic. I might be totally nitpicky here, but...it just introduced a little doubt. Still, I very much enjoyed the book as a whole.
At its best, this book is an engaging, interesting, and deeply informative book about the birth of modern chemistry.
At its worst, it is a poorly edited gossip rag that takes indiscriminate potshots -- criticizing scientists for believing too readily, not believing readily enough -- and is filled with unfortunate, cynical schadenfreude.
As to the editing -- Timothy McVeigh did NOT blow up the Oklahoma City Courthouse. He blew up the Murrah Federal Building. That is a MAJOR error that should not have gotten past the editors.
Finally, Mr Kean, while ridiculing pretty much everyone, consistently talks about what atoms and molecules and elements "want to do." As the hard-nosed, error-science writer, he ought to know that atoms, etc., don't "want" anything. They DO things because of their various physical properties.
That is a whole lot of complaining, but I mostly enjoyed this. Mr Kean just needs a dose of the humility that he noticing that others don't have.
This is a brilliant blend of science, history, fun trivia and human interest stories. Much of what is in this book was unexpeted and a wonderful surprise -- like wandering around a museum and stumbling upon one riverting piece of art work after another.
I look forward to reading Mr. Kean's next book. No matter what the subject, I expect it to be fascinating.
Avid reader, love philosophy, fiction, everything!
Something most people would see as boring has been turned interesting and fun! This is a great book and you might even learn something!!! HIGHLY recommended.
This was a well researched book but I found many sections were hard to understand and my mind often wandered during some parts of the presentation. I enjoyed the Bill Bryson Book " A Short History of Nearly Everything" much much more. It covered many of the same topics in a much more entertaining style.
I enjoyed this tome but felt that there could have been more background on the "scandals" promised in the title. The reader was enjoyable to listen to and the history behind the formation of the periodic table was rather fascinating. I would have liked to hear a bit more dirt, however. Worth a listen, for sure
It's all about the history of element discovery, but we never learn how the elements were actually discovered. And yet the author somehow found the time to discuss the Drake equation and other barely-irrelevant asides. I found that very irritating. Plenty of interesting stories, though, and a great description of the periodic table and the physics behind it.
If you're the type of person that would find yourself nodding in agreement during a political discussion in any American university faculty room then you'll probably find this book contains enough of interest to be worth a listen. It reads like a good Discover Channel show only slightly more cerebral. I don't mean this pejoratively as I thoroughly enjoy a good Discover Channel show.
Unfortunately, my stomach was simply not strong enough to swallow all the shallow, smug, liberal moralizing with which Kean infects his book. Did you know capitalism was the cause of the Rwandan blood bath? Yes, yes, I know, money + greedy capitalists is the root of all evil, but does Kean have to preach this to me in a book about the periodic table? And of course there was the hand wringing over every scientist who ever contributed to developing weapons for his country along with the requisite liberal moral equivalence, as if developing better artillery for Hitler or nukes for the Soviet Union was morally equivalent to building a thermonuclear bomb for the United States. I was able to stomach these liberal staples, but the point at which I simply had enough was when when Kean made excuses for the many scientists who were apologists for the Soviet Union and for Stalin himself well into the 50's. These scientists had no excuse, but Kean tries to defend them nonetheless on the grounds that they mistakenly but understandably thought Stalin was a friend to science because Soviet scientists had more government funding than their western counterparts. I guess Kean felt compelled to defend them because he knew he would have been one of them had he lived during their era.
If you are a conservative, or even a liberal who expects an author to back up political opinions with at least a few inches of depth, then Kean's politics will poison this book for you. It's a shame, because he writes fairly well and were my stomach a little stronger I would have enjoyed listening to the rest of the book
This book had some interesting parts and could have been pretty good but ... it was tough to follow. As written text it may have been better but in audio format I had trouble trying to follow the authors line of thinking. Finally, the title is overdone. Not a terrible book. Just not good.