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Book Club 2010 & Prior > October 2010 - 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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message 1: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
August is almost over, so it is time to start nominating books for the October read. (We try to give everybody about a month lead time, to acquire the book before we begin discussing it.) Have you read a good one lately, or do you have one in mind that we might all enjoy? Please post your ideas.

We'll take nominations ONLY through September 1 and then run a poll for October's book shortly after that.

Post your nominations in this thread and we will gather them all for the vote!

message 2: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments I'd recommend Eaarth (yes two As) by Bill McKinnen because of all the work the author has done on his website to make people aware of climate change. It is by far the most serious environmental problem we face today, and yet people are not doing enough because it is not slapping us in the face like an oil spill. McKinnen also plans worldwide events for 10/10/10. With the book and the website I think we could all learn a lot about what needs to be done. Maybe we could even get the author himself involved in our discussions.

message 3: by S. (new)

S. (salvatrice) I have "New Proofs for the Existence of God" sitting on my TBR shelf...though it's not strictly science...

message 4: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments Whoops. I meant Bill McKibben as the author of Eaarth. Sorry I spelled his name wrong.

message 5: by Alex (new)

Alex I'd like to nominate The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. It's only out in hardcover and Kindle, though, which I imagine some voters might want to take into account.

message 6: by Paul (new)

Paul Vos Benkowski (paulvb) I'm with Alex on the Disappearing Spoon. It's on its way through our library.

message 7: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments I could go for "The disappearing spoon." it looks like a super-cool read.


message 8: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W Disappearing Spoon was a goodreads giveaway, but I didn't win it.

I'm a little confused as to what books have been read already by the group. Over 130 books are marked as "read" on the groups bookshelf. I'd like to nominate Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex if it hasn't already been read by the group.

message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex I was in on that one too. My friend Cindy won it...damn her to hell.

message 10: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Jennifer,

"Bonk" was a great book. I bought it as soon as it came out and really enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind re-reading it if it gets picked.


I love the good reads give away's. I woke up to an email this morning telling me that I won a book, which put a real shine on the day.


message 11: by Leilani (new)

Leilani (spanishviolet) | 2 comments Practically everything mentioned so far is on my to-read list! A difficult choice awaits.

If I have to pick just one to second, I'll go with Eaarth.

message 12: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
Jennifer W wrote: "I'm a little confused as to what books have been read already by the group. Over 130 books are marked as "read" on the groups bo..."

It is a bit confusing ... take a look at the bookshelf named "book-club". It contains the books that have been read as a "book of the month".

message 13: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments I'd like to take a second to congratulate David Letterman for having Bill McKibben on his show last night to discuss the book Eaarth and climate change. Late night talk shows no longer do such things. I'm old enough to remember the day when it was common for those shows to end with issues like that. Why not go to and check it out.

I'm confused about why climate change isn't shaking people up a bit more? Don't any of us have children? Or know children? The earth had 275 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere for centuries until the start of the industrial revolution. A sustainable level is 350 ppm, thus McKibben's website is called Now we are over 390 ppm. And going higher.

The battle is against the oil, gas, and coal companies, formidable foes. But the battle is also against our desire to live an unsustainable lifestyle. That to me is what's really hard to change: the person in the mirror. Me.

Sadly, it's too late to just change a few light bulbs. It's going to take far more drastic changes. Let me just mention one news item from recent weeks. Fires in Russia have been burning out of control. Wheat crops have been seriously damaged. Now Russia has declared it has halted the export of wheat because it no longer has enough for itself. Those fires in Russia are a result of higher temperatures. Such fires are increasing throughout the temperate zone.

Humans are like the frog in Al Gore's movie. The world is heating up and we sit around waiting and not reacting.

message 14: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
Nominations are closed now. Please
vote for one of these great books by September 6.

message 16: by Alex (new)

Alex Nice! Looking forward to it.

message 17: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Sweet! Good news. I've been looking forward to reading it.


message 18: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W I just got The Disappearing Spoon from the library! Can't wait to read it!

message 19: by David (last edited Oct 03, 2010 06:36PM) (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
I just finished reading The Disappearing Spoon. It is quite an entertaining book. It is packed with interesting stories and anecdotes. Jennifer W is reading it now ... anybody else?

Usually, I prefer to check out books from the library, rather than purchasing them. Unfortunately, since this book was published just a few months ago, there is still a big demand for it at the local library; there is a long queue of people who have reserved the book. So, I bought it from Amazon. Is anybody else finding the book difficult to obtain?

message 20: by Alex (new)

Alex I have to read a bio of Michelangelo next - library book - so I'll be a bit late. I'll try to catch up.

message 21: by Gofita (new)

Gofita | 43 comments I'm into the second chapter and am finding it fascinating! I'm learning to many little new tidbits. I also just picked it up at the local Barnes and Noble. I like to mark up my books so I usually don't get nonfiction from the library.

message 22: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Hemming Seems to only be hardback here, so will be waiting for now. Looking forward to your reviews though.

message 23: by Alex (new)

Alex It's available on Kindle, so I'm okay.

message 24: by Sandra (new)

Sandra (slortiz) | 60 comments David wrote: "I just finished reading The Disappearing Spoon. It is quite an entertaining book. It is packed with interesting stories and anecdotes. Jennifer W is reading it now ... anybody else?

Usually, I pre..."

David, I had the same experience. Rather, my library didn't even have it yet, so I had to buy it also from Amazon. It hasn't arrived yet, but I am looking forward to reading it. I will also look forward to another of your astute reviews.

message 25: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 2 comments Hi everyone! This is my first time posting altho I've been following the discussions and book recommendations closely - I usually get my books from the library and was lucky enough to request this one early so I read it in September and was ahead of the game for once.
I really enjoyed it - I've always had a little trouble wrapping my head around chemistry but this book helped me with that - in addition to being very entertaining. Plus the author is from South Dakota, my home state, which of course adds to the appeal :) I'm looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks of it!

message 26: by Paul (new)

Paul Vos Benkowski (paulvb) Just came in from through the library. I'm only a couple of chapters in but enjoying it. I was able to avoid chemistry in high school but I have always had a certain fascination with the periodic table. Any way, learning lots and digging.

message 27: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Hemming I don't want to wait any more!

message 28: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 2 comments Hello again everyone - if any of you live within driving distance of Sioux Falls, SD, the author will be signing books at Barnes and Noble on October 15 @ 7pm.

message 29: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
What do people think of the author's "folksy" style of writing? It sort of put me off a bit, to read sentences with the word "um" or "well" stuck in the middle.

message 30: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnahr) David wrote: "What do people think of the author's "folksy" style of writing? It sort of put me off a bit, to read sentences with the word "um" or "well" stuck in the middle."

I'm about 65% of the way through (on a Kindle) and am thoroughly enjoying the book. I love these kinds of interesting, quirky stories about science. I like the author's accessible, down-to-earth style of writing, but I agree that when I see the words "well" and "um" in a sentence, it's just a bit too much.

I just read the story of Roentgen discovering X-rays and thinking that he was going mad. That's a great story.

message 31: by Paul (new)

Paul Vos Benkowski (paulvb) David I'm with you. I have a low tolerance for cheekiness, which this book has a fair amount of. Thankfully the rest of it is so engaging that I don't, well, care.

message 32: by Alex (new)

Alex Finally got to start it this morning, and immediately ran into this folksiness y'all are talking about: he uses the word "frickin'" in the intro.

All things considered, I'd rather have someone err on the side of folksiness than of...uh, pretentiousness? An example that comes to mind is Harold Bloom; he'll never be accused of overfamiliarity, but neither is he at all possible to read.

I'm starting from a position of more or less absolute ignorance, so I had to look up "atom" on Wikipedia just to give myself a bit of a foundation. (I'm sure Kean will get around to a full explanation eventually, but I'm only at 4% and so far it's only been a partial one.) Very exciting to be re-learning all that stuff I loathed in high school; this was maybe my least favorite subject, but I'm totally interested in it now.

message 33: by Gofita (new)

Gofita | 43 comments I guess I'm cheeky cuz I haven't even noticed! Only while I was reading last night, (since you have pointed it out) I finally caught an "um." I'm just so engrossed in stories.

message 34: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W I hadn't really noticed either. A couple of times I saw what you're talking about, but it mostly just flowed for me. Yesterday I read about aluminum (or aluminium- I've heard Brits say it that way and never knew why), I really liked that one. I think my favorite anecdote was about Lewis and Clark and the mercury laxatives.

I think the biggest problem I have with the text is that it's been a long time since I took a chemistry class, so there's a lot of the basics that I don't remember. I wish he either explained them better, or had an appendix in the back or something. For example, I was straining my brain to remember chemical handedness. I know I learned it in high school, and I know that there's a neat little trick that involves looking at your hand and knowing something about chemistry, but I don't remember what it was. I could go look it up on my own, but I guess I don't care that much.

message 35: by Alex (new)

Alex Right, Jennifer, same problem I'm having. Can't blame him for not fitting in everything about chemistry - that book would be long - but parts of it are already tough for me.

Luckily, I'm a compulsive Wikipedia-er, so I'll be able to look stuff up as I go. Hopefully that'll help.

The handedness trick is here, not that I have any idea what that article is talking about. Maybe it'll all be clear later.

message 36: by Gofita (new)

Gofita | 43 comments Yup, same problem for me. I'm in chapter five and I'm still trying to grasp atomic weights and electron hoarding!

message 37: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W I found this website that I think explains it pretty well. Click on the blue box "Next Stop..." at the bottom to keep reading (the next page or 2 deals with atomic weight).

message 38: by Alex (new)

Alex That just confused me. Their chapters seem weirdly out of order.

message 39: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnahr) I made it through the chemistry part fine, but I got lost in the last part where he gets into quantum physics. I have never been able to wrap my head around that. Still, even reading a bit more shallowly in a few parts, I still found the stories extremely entertaining. I kept interrupting my husband to tell him anecdotes from the book. I also loved the Lewis and Clark story.

message 40: by Alex (new)

Alex I don't think anyone can wrap their head around quantum physics - even quantum physicists. It all boils down to, "I don't know where the hell anything is, ever," doesn't it? :)

message 41: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (mjkirkland) Not only that, but my grasp of quantum physics is that "if I look at it, then I influence it, so it doesn't behave as it would have if I hadn't been looking at it. . "

message 42: by Gofita (new)

Gofita | 43 comments oh, and quarks have color that isn't really mind-boggling! I love it!

message 43: by Alex (new)

Alex I'm 18% through now. Last night I was happy to finally learn why scientists are so fixated on carbon-based life (as opposed to, say, silicon-based.) I'd always thought it was just because we don't have any better ideas, but now I know that we have sound reasons to believe that there aren't any better ideas. Very cool!

message 44: by Alex (last edited Oct 14, 2010 07:35AM) (new)

Alex By the way, for those of you reading on Kindle: it sucks not to be able to flip to the periodic table frequently, right? I printed out a periodic table so I could refer to it - the same way I printed out the cast of characters for Anna Karenina. Exactly the same. Here's the best image I found (works in B&W too!); here's the page it came from, which is worth visiting to read the insane comments below it.

"In my thoughts yall should not be on this kind of stuff see this is wat i be talking about yall are going to make me very angry at yall .yall chlidren are not going to get something for your birthday stop playing with me.OR SOMETHING GONA JUMP OFF UP IN HERE"

"I like pie. Mmm...pie..."

message 45: by Alex (last edited Oct 27, 2010 10:58AM) (new)

Alex Finished Spooooon last night. (Sorry, it's been years since I've been able to say the word "Spoon" without imagining The Tick saying it.

Dug it, anyway. Very cool book. And I did learn, Melissa, that that whole "The observer changes the observed" thing isn't actually the core quantum quandary; it's a related issue (the Copenhagen interpretation) that's always the first thing people think about when they hear "quantum mechanics" because...well, probably because it sounds neat.

But the real first thing, the biggest confusion with quantum mechanics is that you can either know where a particle is, or where and how fast it's going, but never both at once. So...there's that then.

(Caveat: I'm repeating and possibly mangling information I don't really understand, so I hope I got this right.)

message 46: by David (last edited Oct 27, 2010 01:09PM) (new)

David Rubenstein | 853 comments Mod
Alex, you've got it right. The exact statement of Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle is:
(Uncertainty in Position)X(Uncertainty in Momentum) = h/4*pi.
Here, h is Planck's constant, a very very very small number. So, the better you know position of a particle, the less well you know momentum (and hence, speed), and vice-versa.

People make a common mistake of trying to apply the Uncertainty Principle to macroscopic objects, that is, to everyday objects. For example, some people might say, "the mere presence of the scientist in the room altered the outcome of the psychology experiment". While this might be true in some circumstances, it is in no way related to the Uncertainty Principle. The Principle only applies to the very smallest particle scales, because Planck's constant is so small.

There are lots of weird things associated with quantum mechanics. For example, light is both a collection of particles (photons) and waves. You can design an experiment to discern individual photons or waves, but as soon as you make an observation, you will find either photons or waves, not both. The list of weird things goes on and gets very interesting, because we build our everyday intuition on macroscopic scales, and it simply doesn't apply.

message 47: by Gofita (new)

Gofita | 43 comments I'm halfway through Spoon. I'm loving it. I just find myself looking up things and trying to grasp some of the concepts. It's fascinating and I'm really enjoying the human stories.

message 48: by Alex (new)

Alex Thanks, David! And the fact that light is both particles and waves is why lasers work, right? Because if you think about lasers as particles, they should be too unfocused to be a laser, but as waves, the science works?

Seems like the problem with quantum mechanics is that we keep looking for analogies in life as we know it - but the whole thing is that the microscopic world is exactly not that, so we get all twisted up.

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