We are currently making improvements to the Audible site. In an effort to enhance the accessibility experience for our customers, we have created a page to more easily navigate the new experience, available at the web address www.audible.com/access.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements | [Sam Kean]

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

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.
Regular Price:$24.49
  • Membership Details:
    • First book free with 30-day trial
    • $14.95/month thereafter for your choice of 1 new book each month
    • Cancel easily anytime
    • Exchange books you don't like
    • All selected books are yours to keep, even if you cancel
  • - or -

Your Likes make Audible better!

'Likes' are shared on Facebook and Audible.com. We use your 'likes' to improve Audible.com for all our listeners.

You can turn off Audible.com sharing from your Account Details page.

OK

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

4.1 (2363 )
5 star
 (1033)
4 star
 (827)
3 star
 (353)
2 star
 (101)
1 star
 (49)
Overall
4.2 (1562 )
5 star
 (741)
4 star
 (504)
3 star
 (234)
2 star
 (55)
1 star
 (28)
Story
4.2 (1556 )
5 star
 (704)
4 star
 (588)
3 star
 (207)
2 star
 (37)
1 star
 (20)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Gene oakridge, OR, United States 09-29-10
    Gene oakridge, OR, United States 09-29-10 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    14
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "well worth the listen"

    gives a human face to science and makes the table of elements as interesting as a novel.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Phelan 12-19-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    84
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    31
    15
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    0
    Overall
    "A Good Discovery Channel Show Spoiled by Politics"

    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

    16 of 36 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CAPT T. RUBENSTEIN Pensacola, FL United States 09-29-10
    CAPT T. RUBENSTEIN Pensacola, FL United States 09-29-10 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    55
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "No consistent thought"

    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.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    chris 05-07-14
    chris 05-07-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    106
    32
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Like sitting through chemistry class all over agai"
    What would have made The Disappearing Spoon better?

    If it had a storyline or interesting facts for someone other than a Chemistry major


    Would you ever listen to anything by Sam Kean again?

    No


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    He read well


    What character would you cut from The Disappearing Spoon?

    Helium


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffery T. Harris 04-06-14 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    61
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    126
    73
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    8
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Scattered and Disorganized"
    What disappointed you about The Disappearing Spoon?

    For a book that aimed to step through the periodic table, it was disjointed and scattered. There did not seem to be any real direction to the book.


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

    I thought some of the anecdotes were very interesting and entertaining.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Definitely disappointment. I expected a more organized approach. The author hopped between elements, stories, and just had no real direction. It could have been so much better.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard United States 10-08-12
    Richard United States 10-08-12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    3
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Like Chemistry?"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Disappearing Spoon to be better than the print version?

    Didn't read the printed version


    What could Sam Kean have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    I didn't finish. Too technical


    Which scene was your favorite?

    No comment


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

    No


    Any additional comments?

    Not my cup of tea

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L 07-21-11
    L 07-21-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    97
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    210
    47
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    0
    Overall
    "not sure why, but it's just not that compelling"

    i really wanted to like it, but i grew bored and dropped it. (and i generally love science books)

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Twang 04-13-11
    Twang 04-13-11

    Yet Reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    9
    8
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Wonderful Opportunity Spoiled"

    In, what I suspect is, an attempt to make the book the most readable to the most people, basic scientific words are morphed into everyday street vernacular. The awful effect being that meanings are changed and false statements ensue - the inescapable irony being the further muddling of understanding. Picture Monet with large color blocks instead of points of color.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Norman West Granby, CT, United States 03-03-11
    Norman West Granby, CT, United States 03-03-11 Member Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    "Content+ Narrator-"

    The Book itself is great. For those who like this kind of thing, the book offers a good deal of detail without becoming pedantic. The narrator however leaves much to be desired. His voice is weak, his use of accents inconsistent and the delivery is, well, it detracts from the book.

    I like to get into the book without being aware of the narrator - the best can do this, keep you engaged while never knowing they are there. This person is not one of the best.

    So book - 4 stars. Narrator 2 stars. You do the math

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    alex 11-16-10
    alex 11-16-10 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    30
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    2
    Overall
    "great read, nothing earth shattering, well read"

    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.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 121-130 of 136 results PREVIOUS1121314NEXT

    There are no listener reviews for this title yet.

Report Inappropriate Content

If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.

Cancel

Thank You

Your report has been received. It will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.