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
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.
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
the stories are very interesting a bit scattered and you should have a periodic table on hand to refer to (unless you know it very well). wife said it was like a gossip column for the elements.
I thought it would server better as a web site where you click on the element and read the story line.
it was just ok for us
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.
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.
Hello, This book makes good listening on many short trip. The stories are short and clean while maintaining a historical tread. The stories (life and times) of science's giant had me Googling them to know more. Over all a great book, a fun look at science, and it's history.
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