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 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?
I understand the chemistry that makes the periodic table the periodic table. What I expected was some stories about the elemental discoveries or interesting uses of the elements. I wanted more casual conversation starter topics, instead I got a basic chemistry lesson on the outer electron shell. Makes a very boring listen, like a chemistry lecture. There are some great interesting stories layered in but they are far and few in-between to really keep my interest.
What a great romp through the history of the discovery and application of the elemental table. Rather than teaching science and chemistry, this book tells the stories surrounding the scientists, their lives and discoveries of the elements, and other elemental-associated occurrences. If you're afraid of taking a chemistry class for fear that you won't understand the information, this is a book that opens up the history of chemistry in a way that can help you overcome your fears and potentially even enjoy taking a chemistry class. If you're a science professional, such as a teacher, this book can provide you with entertaining, informative, and humorous stories to make chemistry a much more interesting and approachable subject. And if you're simply generally interested in science (like me), this book is highly entertaining and educational. Note: After listening to this book, I purchased some gallium (the "disappearing spoon" element) as a Christmas present for a family member, and we had fantastic fun playing with it.
Chemistry's Spellbinding History.
The author has done a bang-up job in writing the history of the periodic table (the elements therein), so much so that I find myself listening to the chapters repeatedly. Historical scientists and startling finds are covered throughout the book. This is a very intriguing, engaging, and informative book of science through and through.
I found this book to be fascinating. As I listened I frequently bothered my boyfriend with tidbits starting "did you know..." As a teacher I thought this book could make for an interesting inter-disciplinary assignment as it connects history, chemistry, biology and more. For a curious mind, this is a winner.
Well worth the read. Instead of being a chemistry/physics heavy book, it ties in the history, controversy, personal stores and interesting facts about the elements and the design of the periodic table. For example did you know, aluminum used to be consider the rarest of the fine metals (before we figured out how to refine it) and as such a 100oz. pyramid of it sits atop the Washington Monument, or that Napoleon is reputed to have given a banquet where the most honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others made do with gold? This book is filled with a plethora of interesting factoids, history and even a little science.
Well narrated, well written, can't stop listening to it! The weaving of all of the stories will keep you wanting more.
Very Interesting, enlightening
This book is exactly what you think it’s about. The Periodic Table.
Dad, Dentist, Adventurer. Well... at least 2 of those.
Wonderful anecdotes about the discovery of each element. This book got me really interested in the history of science.
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.
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