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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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  •  
    Kari D. Arizona 02-19-13
    Kari D. Arizona 02-19-13 Member Since 2016
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    "Absolutely fascinating!"

    If you have any interest in the Periodic Table, this is the book to pick up and listen to. It is a fascinating, and in some ways unbelievable, series of short, interconnected historical stories tied back to the narrative backbone of the Periodic Table; the stories usually focus on specific elements or the groups in which they reside.

    If you have ever wondered why some elements are named the way they are, this book answers that. If you have ever wondered how elements are discovered, or in what order they were discovered, or where they were discovered, or what their uses are, or which ones are dangerous, or which ones are beneficial--this book answers all of those questions and more.

    The narrator is entertaining--almost tongue-in-cheek--without detracting from the information being presented. I would agree with some of the other reviewers who say that the book is scattered; in some ways it is, but I found that advantageous, because I could pick up and listen to an hour here and there without having to consult (metaphorical) notes on what happened before.

    The layperson might become a little confused on the science, but it is clearly explained, and there isn't too terribly much of it; however, anyone with some science background, especially chemistry, will probably get more out of it.

    Again, highly recommended to anyone who has an interest in chemistry, likes the Periodic Table or wants to find out more about the Table and its history.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lauren 01-28-13
    Lauren 01-28-13
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    "I am not a scientist"
    What does Sean Runnette bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I liked his author's asides, I have the feeling of the author standing there and going ohhhohhohh......so that the reader has to add in his extra information.


    Any additional comments?

    I have not taken very many general science classes. High school biology and chemistry. For my Master's Degree in Deaf Education I took science classes such as anatomy, and an understanding of sound. I enjoyed listening to the stories in this book. I remember the periodic table of elements and as a special education middle school teacher have had to introduce chemistry to students who had learning problems. I found making element models from unifix cubes and marshmallows and gumdrops, helped them understand a little bit about the table.
    I think this book has a great way of explaining the history of science.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Craig 01-16-13
    Craig 01-16-13
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    "Way Interesting Science"

    This brought the elements home and made them interesting and new. Now I have a better understanding of where they come from, how they effect me and some of their more unusual aspects.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    mary 12-13-12
    mary 12-13-12
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    "Lots of tales with the p. table!!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Disappearing Spoon to be better than the print version?

    I've not read the hard-copy of this book, but the audio was great!


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Disappearing Spoon?

    The detailed stories shared of the various scientists and their contributions to the p.table / science....so many!! The mad scientist who invented and utilized nerve gas and elements for war purposes; disgusting, but interesting.


    Any additional comments?

    Lots of information about just every element; the content got heavy near the end, and I started to tune out.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nick 12-11-12
    Nick 12-11-12 Member Since 2017
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    "WHIPCRACK! Great Listen."
    What made the experience of listening to The Disappearing Spoon the most enjoyable?

    Sam Kean is a fantastic author. I started hearing him on RadioLab and had to give this a listen. I love the Authors notes that are usually hilarious. If you enjoy history and science this is will worth it.


    What other book might you compare The Disappearing Spoon to and why?

    The Violinists Thumb


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen Red Bluff, CA, United States 12-07-12
    Stephen Red Bluff, CA, United States 12-07-12 Member Since 2005

    You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis

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    "A WILD RIDE THROUGH THE PERIODIC TABLE OF ELEMENTS"

    Both engrossing, weird and totally horrific facts on the elments presented in a casually entertaining manner. Very well written and narrated.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Guns4all 12-05-12
    Guns4all 12-05-12 Member Since 2017
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    "Fun science facts about the periodic table"

    I'm not done with it, but will finish it...someday. At the halfway point, other books piqued my interest more. This was six months ago.

    Fun history and stories about how the periodic table was discovered/designed, the personalities behind it, and info on each of the elements. My wife liked it more than me, but she is the geeky one.

    Sometimes, science is easier to understand when there is a story behind it, that's where this book shines.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Sharon Bridgewater, MA, United States 11-12-12
    Sharon Bridgewater, MA, United States 11-12-12
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    "A well written geek book"
    What made the experience of listening to The Disappearing Spoon the most enjoyable?

    Being a chemist I was most intrigued by his research and information. Being a teacher I was more intrigued by his stories. This made the elements come alive in a more useful, realistic fashion. Being a listener I loved the narration.


    Any additional comments?

    Not to be missed by the scientifically minded!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Evans Dallas, TX United States 10-13-12
    P. Evans Dallas, TX United States 10-13-12
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    "Great history and wonderful science"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Disappearing Spoon to be better than the print version?

    although it helps to keep a copy of the periodic table nearby, it's not necessary to enjoy this collection of bizarre and amazing stories baout the elements of the periodic table,.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joanne Hegedus Rising Sun, IN United States 10-08-12
    Joanne Hegedus Rising Sun, IN United States 10-08-12 Member Since 2016

    I love the physical sciences and their history. The history of quantum michanics is especially exciting.

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    "Sam Kean's stories never disappear from your mind!"
    What did you love best about The Disappearing Spoon?

    Sam Kean has a way with words and knows his way around the periodic table. This is a very entertaining and informative book. I own it in two formats, audio and e-book. I teach Chemistry and refer to his stories often in my lectures. It is hard to pick, but I think my favorite line is: "Elements Shed, Share or Steal electrons." Even if you are not interested in the chemistry, the stories are well worth hearing.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Disappearing Spoon?

    The most memorable is Sams telling of the story of Fritz Haber and his treatment of his wife. It almost makes me not want to lecture on the Born-Haber cycle.


    Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, I haven't. He does a great job reading this one.


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

    Yes, when Fritz Haber's wife, Clara Immerwahr, shot herself, and Sam Kean pointed out that she could have been another Marie Curie had she married differently.


    Any additional comments?

    I plan to explore other books by Mr. Kean!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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