Those of you who try but can’t always avoid grabbing handrails on subways and buses may be relieved to know that elements used by many transportation systems like copper and silver are naturally antibacterial. The structure and composition of the metal is somehow able to inactivate the bacteria, making it an ideal surface for things like…subway handrails.
This is the type of instantly lovable, immediately gratifying knowledge you get from Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon, a fascinating column-by-column, row-by-row dissection of the periodic table. Kean must be commended for turning what could have been boring historical and scientific accounts into bite-sized human dramas filled with humorous moments and ironic twists. The predictable accounts of science heroes like Marie Curie and Dmitri Mendeleev are given fresh new spins, while the tales of lesser-known scientists are told with gusto. Only in the last few chapters did things get a little heady for me, but I’m admittedly on a steep learning curve when it comes to atoms, electrons, neutrons, and the like.
The remarkably intriguing narration by Sean Runnette is the icing on the cake here. He had his work cut out for him even in good hands, the science could be overbearing for a narrator to effectively relay to the listener. Runnette gives weight to the text by employing an authoritative but gently understanding tone of voice. He doesn’t pose as the high school science teacher reading from the textbook, but instead as the calm and patient tutor willing to work with you until you understand. His David Strathairn-like voice works to keep you entertained even while discussing P-shells, superatoms, Molybdenum, and the causes of Japan’s Itai-itai disease. Runnette’s standout moments come when describing the constant bickering between scientists claiming ownership over element discoveries. He voices these sections with such giddy, tongue-in-cheek glee that the listener can’t help but chuckle along. This ability to reach across the periodic table into the common interests of non-science loving listeners is key to the success of Runnette’s narration. Armed with Runnette’s performance, The Dissappearing Spoon amounts to a captivating audio account of the history, science, and meaning behind the elements on the periodic table. Josh Ravitz
“The Disappearing Spoon is my favorite kind of science journalism: it reveals a hidden universe in the form of a thrilling tale.”
“Arthur C. Clarke once noted that truly advanced science cannot be distinguished from magic. 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.”
Science Magazine reporter Sam Kean reveals the periodic table as it’s never been seen before. Not only is it one of man's crowning scientific achievements, it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. 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.
We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues' wives when she'd invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country; their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history? From the Big Bang to the end of time, it's all in The Disappearing Spoon.
©2010 Sam Kean (P)2010 Tantor
The narrator was very good. Highly technical. Barely Comprehensible by a layman. I now can see the big picture intertwining physics and chemistry.
This book seems like a good idea. Take each element in the periodic table and tell the reader something interesting about that element. This would work better if there were anly six or eight elements. Unfortunately, there are over 100 elements. This cleaver enterprise gets dull very fast. I like chemistry. But I do not like loads and loads of unrelated facts.
There are no thematic ideas to tie this vast load of trivia together. It is like listening to the cards of Trivial Pursuit being read aloud. The first half dozen are interesting. After that you just tune out. Skip this book in favor of UNCLE TUNGSTEN by Oliver Sacks. That is a fascinating book with lots of chemistry in it.
This book is a light-hearted, superficial romp through the periodic table of the elements. "The Disappearing Spoon" is more entertaining than profound. And that's fine -- I think the author did not set out to write a deep, philosophical book. Don't expect a whole lot, and you won't be disappointed.
I thought there would be more about the people involved with the discoveries than there was. If you really like science and enjoy the academics of it, this is for you.
I read some other Kean books and was impressed so tried this one. I like dry academic books but this one was too much. I was excited to hear tales of the table but this book simply is too scattered and dry to get through.
If you have taken organic chemistry and have a working knowledge of it, then this book will be interesting. The author spends a lot of time explaining protons, electrons, and how subtle differences in each result in completely different elements. It is interesting but also a little heady to be listening to while driving around town in the car.
I wanted more stories behind the elements and less lessons about the elements themselves.
There aren't really characters to follow. Mostly historical figures and their roles in the discovery and use of each element.
When the stories and anecdotes about the elements were the focus, it was very interesting and enjoyable to listen to. For me, if felt more like a chemistry class.
I really like science and enjoy learning new things, but this book was not for me. I was mislead by the description and reviews of this book; it was not at all what I was lead to believe.
If you are a science history buff, you will enjoy this book. If not, you will likely not make it through the first chapter due to absolute boredom.
The book goes through each element on the periodic table along with who and how it was discovered.
The story was drawn out and made it unbearable. I had to stop listening and was pretty disappointed that I wasted my money
Interesting in places, pretty boring in others. This book is about the periodic table in the same way any story about anything related to science can be linked to the periodic table, since after all everything is made of elements.
so average, non-compelling work. Perhaps because the material is so iffy the narration feels long winded...
Didn't read the printed version
I didn't finish. Too technical
Not my cup of tea
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