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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

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  30,128 Ratings  ·  2,883 Reviews
The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But 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 ...more
ebook, 391 pages
Published July 12th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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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)
Nadya L. It's not meant to be a comedy but the stories and background about the elements can be very comical.
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Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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,
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: four-star-reads, pad
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
May 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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 clusters
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Dec 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ginger K
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
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
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
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
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
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
Alexander Landerman
Read this book. Read it twice.
Ian Tregillis
Oct 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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'
Jun 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Sep 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-read
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
More about Sam Kean...
“Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.” 75 likes
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