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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

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  •  
    Mark 07-01-12
    Mark 07-01-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Who knew Chimistry could be so fascinating?"
    If you could sum up The Disappearing Spoon in three words, what would they be?

    Chemistry's Spellbinding History.


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amo 06-25-12
    Amo 06-25-12 Member Since 2014
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    "Very Interesting"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wade T. Brooks Portland, OR, USA 06-25-12
    Wade T. Brooks Portland, OR, USA 06-25-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Well worth the read."

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    EC 06-25-12
    EC 06-25-12
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    "Listening to it again, right after I finished it"

    Well narrated, well written, can't stop listening to it! The weaving of all of the stories will keep you wanting more.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey Petaluma, CA, United States 05-17-12
    Jeffrey Petaluma, CA, United States 05-17-12 Member Since 2015
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    "I love when a book ends and POOF I’m smarter."
    If you could sum up The Disappearing Spoon in three words, what would they be?

    Very Interesting, enlightening


    Any additional comments?

    This book is exactly what you think it’s about. The Periodic Table.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alan Yuba City, CA 03-02-12
    Alan Yuba City, CA 03-02-12 Member Since 2010

    Dad, Dentist, Adventurer. Well... at least 2 of those.

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    "I want to be a chemist now"

    Wonderful anecdotes about the discovery of each element. This book got me really interested in the history of science.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Warnie Plano, TX, United States 02-17-12
    Warnie Plano, TX, United States 02-17-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Fun and interesting"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David United States 01-15-12
    David United States 01-15-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Who knew that Chemistry could be so interesting?"
    Any additional comments?

    This is a brilliant blend of science, history, fun trivia and human interest stories. Much of what is in this book was unexpeted and a wonderful surprise -- like wandering around a museum and stumbling upon one riverting piece of art work after another.

    I look forward to reading Mr. Kean's next book. No matter what the subject, I expect it to be fascinating.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jerry Krypton 01-09-12
    Jerry Krypton 01-09-12 Listener Since 2005

    Avid reader, love philosophy, fiction, everything!

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    "The elements!"

    Something most people would see as boring has been turned interesting and fun! This is a great book and you might even learn something!!! HIGHLY recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Adrienne Chicago, IL, United States 09-23-11
    Adrienne Chicago, IL, United States 09-23-11 Member Since 2016
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    "Good but needs a little more"

    I enjoyed this tome but felt that there could have been more background on the "scandals" promised in the title. The reader was enjoyable to listen to and the history behind the formation of the periodic table was rather fascinating. I would have liked to hear a bit more dirt, however. Worth a listen, for sure

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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