Moxie Carroll'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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's review
Jul 15, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: history, nonfiction, science, favourites
Read from May 25 to July 15, 2011

Sam Kean's book "The Disappearing Spoon" is a wealth of information about the Periodic Table, albeit not in the usual sense. You won't find the atomic weights of all 111 currently discovered elements. In fact there isn't even a table that spells out all the elements. (There is a table at the end of the book that lists them as their abbreviation, but if -- like me -- you don't know all of those by heart, it gets a bit muddy to use.)

But that's not really the point of this book. A cross between a book of science antecdotes and how the periodict table came into being, this book was as informative as it was entertaining. The lack of a full five stars only comes because the author seems to assume a general understanding of elementary chemistry and the cover and inside jacket blurb makes it seem like the book is more layman friendly. It's a minor quibble, really, as he does an excellent job of explaining some of the more complicated theories and discoveries. I suppose they didn't want to scare away anyone who hadn't taken Chemistry 101 in high school.

Still, this book is not for just anyone. You will get the most out of it if you can follow the basics of chemistry. Certainly the politics and personalities behind the discovery of the elements makes this a fascinating social history, and if you gloss over the parts where he explains the science you will still walk away with a great deal of things you didn't know before. But if you appreciate how the world of chemistry fits into not only our world history but our current lives today, then you will certainly gain so much more from this read.

I appreciated his Notes and Errata section in place of standard footnotes because there is has more room to expand on various topics he brings up in each chapter. Whether acknowledging the source of his information, giving slightly off-topic background details, or suggesting where to find more information on the subject at hand, I found flipping between the chapter and his notes very helpful. I'm also now armed with a list of sources I plan on reading to continue the story.

I highly recommend this book, and look forward to reading more from Sam Kean.

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