The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements Audiobook | Sam Kean | Audible.com
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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.
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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

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  •  
    L New York, NY, United States 07-21-11
    L New York, NY, United States 07-21-11 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    87
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    205
    43
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    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 SCOTTSDALE, AZ, United States 04-13-11
    Twang SCOTTSDALE, AZ, United States 04-13-11 Member Since 2007

    Yet Reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    5
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    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 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    30
    5
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    FOLLOWING
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    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
  •  
    Rio Delta Wild Harlingen, TX 11-15-10
    Rio Delta Wild Harlingen, TX 11-15-10 Member Since 2004

    I enjoy mysteries, NOT thrillers, contemporary fiction, especially about diverse cultures, and sometimes history, if it doesn't involve too many dates. I often listen to a book multiple times, discovering unnoticed details in the retelling.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    138
    ratings
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    159
    84
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    12
    6
    Overall
    "perhaps worth trudging through it..."

    I've studied a good bit of chemistry. That said, I find this tome difficult to follow. The author seems to jump around a good bit, through time and from one subject line to another. I can only listen to short bits at any one time. There's a bunch of new info I never knew, and the author's inclusion of historical bits is good. Only dedicated listeners need apply!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven Hunter Avon CT 10-27-10
    Steven Hunter Avon CT 10-27-10 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Pass on this one"

    Combining biographical anecdotes with hard science can work well: witness Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. Disappearing Spoon has its moments, but I found most of the stories fairly boring. It's not a matter of genre but one of execution. For more interesting science writing, try David Quammen for starters. No personal vignettes or amusing biographical chestnuts-- just engaging writing. As for the narrator, his voice matched the slow pace of the prose -- uninspired is the word that comes to mind.

    2 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bob Tunkhannock, PA, United States 09-14-10
    Bob Tunkhannock, PA, United States 09-14-10 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    74
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    12
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    2
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    Overall
    "So so..."

    Just another book consisting of a long line of boring bibliographies attached to an interesting but sparsely covered topic. If you want to hear about character flaws, hurt feelings, fueds, and relationships between husbands and wives (somehow associated with the elements), the by all means give this a listen. If you want some real interesting technical detail, go elsewhere.

    11 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sharon Seattle, WA USA 10-09-10
    Sharon Seattle, WA USA 10-09-10 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    29
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    224
    20
    FOLLOWERS
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    2
    0
    Overall
    "Dull as dust"

    Dreary, monotonous, pointless, irritating, dull, painfully boring (if boring can be classified as causing pain rather than just stupor)

    4 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glenn Richmond Hill, ON, Canada 12-26-10
    Glenn Richmond Hill, ON, Canada 12-26-10 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    0
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    1
    FOLLOWERS
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    2
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    Overall
    "Not my kind of book"

    Liked the idea of the book but too much chemistry for my liking. Also, the history he covered did not grab my attention. Thus, I did not finish the book.

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glenn Richmond Hill, ON, Canada 12-26-10
    Glenn Richmond Hill, ON, Canada 12-26-10 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    180
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    157
    65
    FOLLOWERS
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    138
    0
    Overall
    "Not my kind of book"

    Liked the idea of the book but too much chemistry for my liking. Also, the history he covered did not grab my attention. Thus, I did not finish the book.

    0 of 4 people found this review helpful
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