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The Disappearing Spoon Audiobook

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

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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

The Disappearing Spoon is my favorite kind of science journalism: it reveals a hidden universe in the form of a thrilling tale.”
—BoingBoing

“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.”
Entertainment Weekly

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    Guns4all 12-05-12
    Guns4all 12-05-12 Member Since 2016
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    "Fun science facts about the periodic table"

    I'm not done with it, but will finish it...someday. At the halfway point, other books piqued my interest more. This was six months ago.

    Fun history and stories about how the periodic table was discovered/designed, the personalities behind it, and info on each of the elements. My wife liked it more than me, but she is the geeky one.

    Sometimes, science is easier to understand when there is a story behind it, that's where this book shines.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Sharon Bridgewater, MA, United States 11-12-12
    Sharon Bridgewater, MA, United States 11-12-12
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    "A well written geek book"
    What made the experience of listening to The Disappearing Spoon the most enjoyable?

    Being a chemist I was most intrigued by his research and information. Being a teacher I was more intrigued by his stories. This made the elements come alive in a more useful, realistic fashion. Being a listener I loved the narration.


    Any additional comments?

    Not to be missed by the scientifically minded!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Evans Dallas, TX United States 10-13-12
    P. Evans Dallas, TX United States 10-13-12
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    "Great history and wonderful science"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Disappearing Spoon to be better than the print version?

    although it helps to keep a copy of the periodic table nearby, it's not necessary to enjoy this collection of bizarre and amazing stories baout the elements of the periodic table,.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joanne Hegedus Rising Sun, IN United States 10-08-12
    Joanne Hegedus Rising Sun, IN United States 10-08-12 Member Since 2016

    I love the physical sciences and their history. The history of quantum michanics is especially exciting.

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    "Sam Kean's stories never disappear from your mind!"
    What did you love best about The Disappearing Spoon?

    Sam Kean has a way with words and knows his way around the periodic table. This is a very entertaining and informative book. I own it in two formats, audio and e-book. I teach Chemistry and refer to his stories often in my lectures. It is hard to pick, but I think my favorite line is: "Elements Shed, Share or Steal electrons." Even if you are not interested in the chemistry, the stories are well worth hearing.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Disappearing Spoon?

    The most memorable is Sams telling of the story of Fritz Haber and his treatment of his wife. It almost makes me not want to lecture on the Born-Haber cycle.


    Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, I haven't. He does a great job reading this one.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Yes, when Fritz Haber's wife, Clara Immerwahr, shot herself, and Sam Kean pointed out that she could have been another Marie Curie had she married differently.


    Any additional comments?

    I plan to explore other books by Mr. Kean!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cathi Miami, Florida, United States 10-01-12
    Cathi Miami, Florida, United States 10-01-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Charming and interesting overview of the P.T."
    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    I am a science enthusiast and enjoy reading about scientific topics. This presentation of the periodic table, covering anecdotes and stories about the interaction of various elements with the real world, is a must read for anyone interested in learning about general science.
    The narrrator was clear and had good tone and articulation.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan M Block Bay Area, California 09-12-12
    Ryan M Block Bay Area, California 09-12-12

    Life is short, make sure you have fun

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    "Interesting, but I don't know Chemistry that well"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    Yes, but it depends on weather they they enjoy science or not.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    Good question.


    What does Sean Runnette bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Emphasis in all the right places and keeps you engaged.


    Could you see The Disappearing Spoon being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    No.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sharalyn Fairfield, IA, United States 09-04-12
    Sharalyn Fairfield, IA, United States 09-04-12 Member Since 2017

    I have an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a Master's Degree in Professional Writing from Maharishi University of Management, am author of THE RELUCTANT VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK, and am an avid reader/listener.

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    "How to Learn the periodic table and enjoy it!"
    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book because it was my kind of chemistry--real life stories mixed with technical facts. Apparently i have a reading disorder because I find it extremely difficult to memorize dry facts, but attached to these incredible stories, how can i forget them? I agree with the listener who said the print version might have been better due to the numerous facts, but as I don't have to pass any tests, my take is that it is a great audiobook. I even find myself telling others some of the stories, like how red dye was once used successfully to save lives.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard 09-02-12
    Richard 09-02-12
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    "Compelling!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Reviewing the Periodic Table has never been so interesting.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Disappearing Spoon?

    Understanding Rutherfor'ds contributions.


    Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No- have not but will look for his narrations after this stellar presentation. Excepting the fake Kiwi accent session.


    Any additional comments?

    I rarely take time to listen to an Audio book a second time without first being distracted by another. But this deserves three listens- it's the best ever.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    PixelBrine Henrico, Va, United States 08-27-12
    PixelBrine Henrico, Va, United States 08-27-12
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    "interesting"
    Would you try another book from Sam Kean and/or Sean Runnette?

    sure


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    would have been nice if the subject matter were broken down a little more. I'm sure this book comes across much better in print than audio. In an audio book it's difficult to get across large amounts of information at one time. It's a little harder to go back and re"read" a section to make sure you understand it all.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    yes


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anonymous California 08-20-12
    Anonymous California 08-20-12 Member Since 2014
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    "A Book Filled with Countless Interesting Facts"

    I honestly had no idea how the periodic table and the elements came to be discovered. How interesting could these stories be? It might surprise you that fact is often stranger than fiction and this book certainly brings out an interesting side of chemistry that I never knew existed. You won't regret this book if your a science geek like me. One question. Why don't they teach this stuff in school?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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