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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
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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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  39,146 ratings  ·  3,634 reviews
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betr
...more
Hardcover, 394 pages
Published July 12th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
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Jeffery Nope! But if you understand it, I highly recommend Napoleon's Buttons. It covers skeletal formulae, Fischer projections, and Haworth projections, and …moreNope! But if you understand it, I highly recommend Napoleon's Buttons. It covers skeletal formulae, Fischer projections, and Haworth projections, and it goes into more depth. Organic chemistry is fun!(less)
Paul Definitely non-fiction, but the author tries to liven it up.

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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  39,146 ratings  ·  3,634 reviews


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Start your review of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
Jason
Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Paul Bryant
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,
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Kate
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pad, four-star-reads
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
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Lisa Vegan
May 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Mackey
This is on the banned book list - why!? Oh that's right. Certain parents think that science is too "real" for their precious babies. What a lot of baloney!

The Disappearing Spoon is, quite literally, one of the most fascinating, informative, FUNNY, books about the Periodic Table that I've ever read. Okay, it is the only book about the Periodic Table that I've ever read - but it is amazing. For those who love science or for those who simply would like to better under the elements that make the co
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K
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Valerie
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This does for the periodic table what I am always trying to do for math....link 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
Emily
This book took me 76 days, or almost three months, to read. In this case, I needed all seventy-six individual days to work my brain through passages like this one:

For instance, thirteen aluminium atoms grouped together in the right way do a killer bromine: the two entities are indistinguishable in chemical reactions. This happens despite the cluster being thirteen times larger than a single bromine atom and despite aluminium being nothing like the lacrimatory poison-gas staple ... The cluster
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rmn
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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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
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Nathan
Dec 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fact
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,
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Amanda
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
I'm going to have to stop saying that I don't like non fiction. This is the 3rd "science ish" book I have enjoyed recently. This was an interesting look at history as told thru the periodic table. I can't really speak to the accuracy of the science but I really enjoyed reading all the tales. I recognized a lot of the science names but learned some knew things about them. The parts I found the most interesting were how great an effect WWII had on science and scientists and the parts about mental ...more
Monica
Drive by review both literally and figuratively. Interesting/educational book with interesting anecdotes. Assumes a level of scientific knowledge not necessarily found in a casually curious science neophyte. IOW, way over my head. Rather hard to maintain focus and interest when you are barely understanding the composition of the simplest atoms. My take aways from the book are that the Periodic Table is drawn the way that it is beyond formatting choices. There are reasons that every element is lo ...more
Bettie
Dissolving two noble medals before the nazis arrive

Description: 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 crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating
...more
Ginger K
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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Andrew
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay I will start by saying this is a fascinating book but you will need some understanding of the periodic table and chemistry - now I am not saying you need to be degree level but it will make some of the references a little easier to spot and the importance of some of the statements just that little more dramatic.

That said and I have read a number of chemistry books both for fun and for academic reasons (yes okay I am chemist) but I did like how the author approached the subject of each chap
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David
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science
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
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Max
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
In a breezy style, Kean intersperses chemistry and physics with a potpourri of stories revolving around the elements. He explains how the elements formed and how they were discovered. He blends complex science and human interest in his examples of how the elements have been used and influenced history. Kean transitions quickly from deep discussions of atomic structure or quantum mechanics to oddities such as the nutcase who turned blue eating silver because he thought there would be no antibioti ...more
Brooke
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
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
Oct 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Woodge
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
DeAnna Knippling
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Many tales from the trenches of chemistry and physics - including who was sleeping with who, who was screwing who over, and who totally slept through the most controversial parts of a new theory criticizing the one they came up with.

An entertaining read about why the periodic table is so curiously important.
Alexander Landerman
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Read this book. Read it twice.
Sandi
Aug 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Anny
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A book filled with many interesting trivia. One of which is the alpha variability. So the story went that the alpha value must be an exact x or heavier elements won't be able to bond and create our wonderful universe. Now, there's a suggestion that that value was different in the past. That brings a sobering thought. If there's only a tiny window of opportunity for life to emerge (since in the future the alpha value would have changed again and not be hospitable to life creation), we may really ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A fun read.

For a further review: http://susannag.booklikes.com/post/43... .
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Corinne Edwards
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
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Shelley
Aug 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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Nikki
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements.

I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am bio
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Minli
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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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.

From SamKean.com


(Un)Official Bio:
Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota,
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