Jim Good's Reviews > The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
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Nov 08, 10

bookshelves: history, non-fiction, science
Read in November, 2010

The book is more history than science, but uses the periodic table as the basis for engaging that history. The disappearing spoon is a reference to gallium and it’s likeness to aluminum, though with a melting point of 84 degrees. Apparently it was considered quite a prank to mold a spoon of gallium and watch as the person who used it had it melt in their hands or tea during use. Kean uses stories like this to illustrate the properties of the elements on the periodic table and how their placement therein gives hints as to their properties.

He spends a good deal of time providing the history of the table’s development and the timing of discovery of each of the elements. He touches on some more complicated subjects, but always backed away from giving details. I suppose this is to encourage a larger audience, but I found it a little annoying at times. Because he spends so much time talking about elements being discovered, I was very interested in the science and techniques of their discovery. Sadly, this was a missing component of the book, though he does have a final section of notes and errata where he spends a little more time expounding on his stories, it was still lacking.

A good read for the stories, antidotes, and history, but if you’re looking for technical overview it is not be found here.
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