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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

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  23,315 ratings  ·  2,339 reviews
From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table. Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crow
Hardcover, 394 pages
Published July 12th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2010)
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Katherine Mowatt Nope, I've just read this book and I'm in middle school. I cannot claim I understood everything but I made guesses where I didn't which I believe…moreNope, I've just read this book and I'm in middle school. I cannot claim I understood everything but I made guesses where I didn't which I believe might come close to the truth. (less)
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24th out of 938 books — 2,353 voters
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3rd out of 235 books — 180 voters

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Stop the search. Recall the teams. I have found the non-fiction, summer read of 2010! The Disappearing Spoon.

First, what’s a summer read, Mr. Josey Wales thumbnail photo? A summer read is one you can enjoy during a vacation to the beach, with fresh cocktails and clean towels provided by the swarthy, bronzed attendant at a seafront hotel. You can finish it in a few days in bite-sized chunks, it doesn’t overpower you academically, you learn a little, and the subject is something entirely new to yo
Paul Bryant
Jan 18, 2013 Paul Bryant added it
Shelves: abandoned
My GR friend Jason writes sturdy and trustworthy reviews, but I must take exception with him here :

The Disappearing Spoon is quick, light reading out in the sun. It handles complex theory in a comfortable, approachable way.

Yes, it is all that, IF such stuff as this makes sense to you :

The strongest solo acid is still the boron-based carborane (HCB11C111) And this boron acid has the best punchline so far : it's simultaneously the world's strongest and gentlest acid. To wrap your head around that,
Okay. Let me tell it to you honestly.

This book is not the most well written book - the sentences are clunky and there is not a clear narrative. It is much more of a rambling collection of stories and facts and quirky science knowledge.

That said, I couldn't get back to reading this fast enough. I thought about a book about the scientific table throughout the day. I stole a few minutes wherever I could. I carried this book with me and was even *gasp* early to pick up the kids so that I could read
Lisa Vegan
Aug 30, 2010 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who love chemistry or who’d love to learn chemistry or who think they have no interest
This is an absolutely brilliant idea for a book and it’s a superb book. It’s beautifully organized and well written. It’s a wonderful way to learn and/or deepen knowledge of chemistry. This book is fine for laypeople, but will give meaning and extra enjoyment even for advanced chemistry students. Much appreciated by me was that the information imparted was over my head only a very few times, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve never taken a chemistry class.

This book covers the elements of the
There's a certain type of goodreads troll -- the one who defends their beloved book by saying something like, "Well, if you knew the topic didn't interest you why were you stupid enough to pick up the book?" To that goodreads troll I now have an answer: this book.

If you had told me a few weeks ago that I'd find a book about chemistry and the periodic table of elements difficult to put down, I'd have had a hard time believing you. But I did. This book was funny, interesting, even gripping at time
I should have liked this book more and I can't really explain why I didn't. It's not poorly written (though it ain't Solzhenitsyn) and it's not that uninteresting of a topic, but I just found that after the first 40ish pages, I dreaded having to read more. It was like pulling teeth, only a bit less painful, even without the option of novocaine.

I think part of it was that the book wasn't well organized. The author seemed to jump around the periodic table at his whim without keeping a consistent f
Jan 20, 2011 Valerie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This does for the periodic table what I am always trying to do for the science to the historical events, the people, and the economics that push scientific discoveries. I was fascinated by the many details about the hunt for elements, the private lives of the Curies, the radioactive boy scout, the dangers of storing rare elements in the Congo, and that the same man who invented nitrogen rich fertilizers, is also the inventor of zyklon B. It also made me want to read more about The M ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius."

I can't really speak to the scientific accuracy of this book, but I really enjoyed listening to the stories that come from the periodic table. I feel like I learned some things, which isn't that difficult of a feat since what I remember from my high school chemistry class has more to do with the people sitting near me (we called ourselves the Peanut Gallery). I have vague memories of a teacher, the great Thorstein Sabo, who tried to teach us
This book constipated my reading for almost a month. I have overdue fines from other books that were stacked up behind it. Not because I wasn't enjoying the book: it's readable, fascinating, and chock full of the very anecdotes about science and scientists that I love. So then, why the hell did I find this book so hard?

It's precisely because the book is a collection of anecdotes that it was so hard to read. I felt like I was trying to grasp quicksilver (mercury, symbol Hg from Latin hydragyrum,
So far, not so great. The degree of anthropomorphizing of atoms in the introductory chapters has left me completely puzzled about the actual science involved. I have no idea what it means that oxygen is "a bully." Does oxygen shake down other atoms for electrons? How does that even work?

However, the chapter on chemical warfare has been (disturbing but) interesting. If the rest of the book is historical-figures character-driven, rather than atomic character-driven, then my overall opinion of the
Jul 07, 2011 Woodge rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mad scientists (happy ones too)
This book was an interesting compendium of stories linking up the various elements of the Periodic Table. Not only did I learn about the various scientists who discovered this or that element, but I learned a good deal about many of the elements themselves. It was entertaining enough that I kept coming back to it to read more. I've got a much better understanding now of elements and what makes them differ from each other. And I didn't even realize that elements can change (or decay) into other e ...more
This book was lots of fun, and it certainly taught me more than I ever learned in high school chemistry class. Quite honestly, if someone had asked me for a definition of "chemistry" before, I don't think I would have known what to say. At the same time, The Disappearing Spoon wasn't like a lecture in the least bit, and instead folded tons of scientific information into stories about the scientists and their accomplishments. I'd recommend it to anyone who's curious about a subject they may have ...more
Ian Tregillis
This is a rare specimen among the books I tend to read: a two-bookmark book.

I was skeptical when this first came to my attention. I grew up reading any and every science-related book I could find. My early fascination with books about science -- particularly chemistry and physics -- led, many years later, to my day job career. (I also blame Dr. Who for this, but that's a longer story.) But it was a long road, and not surprisingly along the way I lost my enthusiasm for reading books about scienc
The subtitle of this book is: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. The Periodic Table! Chemistry! How could I possibly be completely enthralled by such a book? How could I dare give it five stars when I wasn't able to truly understand a lot of what I read?

Because of the writing, pure and simple.

Kean makes chemistry accessible for the willing-to-make-an-intellectual-effort layperson - but it's not just the chemistry. It's the
I'm going to start out saying that Lisa wrote a great review of this book.

As a book, this book is absolutely wonderful. It makes chemistry and physics comprehensible and fun. I listened to it in audio and thought the narrator did a fantastic job with it. He actually made the jokes sound funny. He knew what tone the author was striving for and he hit it spot-on. However, I think I ended up missing a lot by listening rather than reading. The book is so packed full of fun facts and numbers and, of
This book is quite an entertaining read. It is packed with interesting anecdotes about scientists who explored the outer fringes of the periodic table. I even learned a little bit of chemistry. The book is organized in an intelligent manner--each chapter is devoted to some theme, with a small group of elements that fit into that theme in some way. Sometimes the author strays from the exploration of elements, but he always seems to relate to the chapter's theme.

The only thing that puts me off a
Sep 20, 2010 Minli rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Minli by: Tbyrd
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
Entertaining read--and a fascinating subject matter. I'm definitely the right audience for this book: someone who knows some chemistry but didn't get any higher degrees in it, and is more interested in the historical, cultural building of the periodic table than the hard science.

Kean's wry prose never lets you forget that his point of view is subjective and conversational: he paints caricatures of famous scientists and makes ridiculous analogies. His audience is undoubtedly American. He does his
Craig Cottingham
I was a chemical engineering major in college, so some of the background information (like the basics of the periodic table) was familiar to me and therefore a little tedious to read. Outside of that, however, this was a fascinating book that I think would be accessible to non-beakerheads.

Each chapter is devoted to a group of elements that are related. Instead of going for the obvious groupings (the inert gasses, the halogens, etc.) he comes at them from a refreshingly sideways direction. There'
This book takes a monumental topic -- the periodic table -- and breaks it down into various digestible topic areas. While I enjoyed it (and learned a lot of history of science trivia I'd been unaware of, what with my head stuck in the 18th century) and had a few "a-ha" moments as some organic chemistry concepts FINALLY made sense to me (14 years after my last ochem class), I have two big problems with the book.

-1 star because the book needed editing. Badly. Kean's writing is usually OK, but som

I have to confess I didn't pay much attention to chemistry. Once the instructor talked about electrons, protons, atoms and the nucleus I usually turned on my Walkman (the cassette kind, now antique!). It never seemed interesting because it wasn't something that related at all to real life. If I had a teacher like Sam Kean, however, that could have been different.

Fast forward too many years, and now I'm engrossed in this nonfiction 'memoir' of the Periodic Table of Elements. Like any good biograp
Linda I
I don't normally review non-fiction reads, but this one is just too superb to pass up! A wonderful and engaging read from cover-to-cover. Sam Kean takes the periodic table of the elements, a chart that makes most people cringe at thoughts of high school (or college) chemistry, and turns it into a riveting drama about the table's origins and the hunt to find new elements. Science geeks will love the scientific jargon but you don't need a degree in chemistry to understand the fascinating stories b ...more
There’s a lot packed into this book. I enjoyed the look of the history of the periodic table; how it got started, the changes made over time, the discoveries of elements. Intermingled are the stories of the people; the scientists who figured things out and made things happen. Intertwined yet again are the stories of the theory and workings of atoms; what makes them tick, what makes them unique, what makes them react. Then there’s all those scientists; some humorous, some deceitful or crazy for f ...more
Did you love it when your teacher told funny science anecdotes? Then The Disappearing Spoon might be the book for you.

This book is exactly what it is made out to be. With a full title of The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, it tells you everything you should know. Kean starts with the periodic table, talks about how it was created, and from there, tells of fun, tragic, or interesting stories about all
Think back to your high school chemistry class. Chances are, the artwork adorning the classroom probably contained a poster with the periodic table of the elements. For some reason, all through 7 chemistry classes, my favorite was tungsten.

Pop quiz - what is the chemical symbol for tungsten? Why, "W" of course! Why not T or Tu or Tg?? The "W"is for wolfram, the German name for tungsten. Without it, those handy incandescent lightbulbs would not operate if it weren't for those tungsten filaments.

Aug 01, 2010 Stephanie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nerds like me
I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, and for me, that’s really...well, unusual. If you had asked me a couple of years ago how I felt about non-fiction, I would have described it as eye-glazingly dull, a dry recitation of facts. But now I eagerly scour the non-fiction shelves at the library. I know -- it’s crazy!

The only explanation is that non-fiction has gotten better. (It can’t be me that’s changed.) The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean is a fine example of this better, more interestin
Tippy Jackson
What Neil DeGrasse Tyson does for astronomy and David Attenborough does for zoology, Sam Kean does for chemistry and physics TOGETHER. There were a few times when the author simplified technical explanations, which I think made it more confusing. For that reason, I almost gave this book a 4. However there were enough moments where my mind was completely blown that I decided it had to be a 5. The first chapter is boring, but it is well worth pushing through. (What is it with science and very bori ...more
"The Disappearing Spoon" teaches the chemistry and physics of atoms and the periodic table. It's taught primarily in the context of short biographies about the Noble prize winning scientists (plus some others) who discovered the various elements or who discovered important things about how the elements or atoms are put together.

Based on the book description I was given, I was expecting more trivia about the elements and how they are and have been used rather than a book teaching science with a m
Sometimes books just fall in my lap....
Although I do pretty much put myself in a position where they seem to fall from the sky at a brisk rate. I went to Barnes & Noble the other day with the wife, ostensibly to get a cup of coffee, and picked up this book and Jose Saramago's 'The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis'. I couldn't tell you what it was about it that caught my attention.
I'm doing that thing again where I read too many books at once, but despite my inward pleas to the contrary, I
For me this book was a pleasure to listen to. I plan to read a paper or e-book edition shortly. A delightful, an engaging blend of lyrical prose, historic anecdotes and fascinating information. Reminiscent, to me, of some of the writing of Lewis Thomas, Oliver Sacks, Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey and John McPhee.

Brain/mind candy or chicken soup for the nerd's soul. Does that make me a dualist?

The chapter essays are wide ranging anecdotal expositions of elements and families of elements. Not only sto
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Sam Kean is a writer in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist. He is currently working as a reporter at Science magazine and as a 2009 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.


(Un)Official Bio:
Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dak
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“Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.” 55 likes
“If anything runs deeper than a mathematician’s love of variables, it’s a scientist’s love of constants.” 21 likes
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