The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
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 tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery--from the Big Bang through the end of time. *Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.
Accessible science for any age
By Amy Henry - July 2, 2010
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 biography, this has scandal, lies, fraud, madness, explosions (!!!) and lots of name-dropping. Kean explains just what the periodic table is, but in a format that reads more like a novel, with anecdotal details to liven it up. Mercury pills were used by Lewis and Clark for their health? Yep, and you can trace their path (um, at least their bathroom trips on their journey) by where scientists have found unusually high amounts of mercury in the soil. The poet Robert Lowell? Did... read more
Periodic Table Tour de Force
By Eric R. Scerri - July 13, 2010
Sam Kean has written a marvelous book that will delight general readers and experts alike. The writing is crisp and sharp and includes an unusual political savyness for somebody treating scientific issues. Kean uses his journalistic skills to succeed in doing what many, perhaps most, academics fail to do when presenting the relevance of chemistry to the real world. Not just applications but also how the history of individual elements has affected the lives of ordinary people. See for example his account of niobium and tantalum. Then there are chapters that weave together the lives of famous chemists and physicists such as one on Segre and Pauling, all in the context of the discovery of elements and developments in twentieth century chemistry and physics. Technicalities are kept to a minimum and when necessary explanations are provided in a clear and lucid manner. Everybody should read this book, period.
Dr. Eric Scerri, author of The Periodic Table, Its Story and... read more
Suffers from lack of an expert editor
By Howard L Ritter, Jr., M.D. - August 7, 2011
This book is worthwhile, interesting overall, and fascinating in places. I think it offers a good read to intelligent persons of almost any background. However, there are a number of glib misstatements, mis-characterizations, bumbled explanations, misspellings, and outright howlers that could have been caught and corrected by an editor with an ear for inelegant phrasing and a decent breadth of general scientific knowledge (i.e., the kind of knowledge that a popular-science-book editor ought to have). A few examples:
The author writes, "The body will rid itself of any poison, mercury included", as the explanation for the efficacy of a mercuric chloride laxative pill. This is both glib and inaccurate. It smacks of that kind of knowing, breezy folk wisdom that sounds right but is misleading or false. There are many noxious substances that elicit no gastrointestinal reaction at all when ingested, as well as many substances that elicit a reaction without being poisonous. In... read more
A witty compendium of the most salacious, outrageous, and quirky misdeeds in American history. Following on the heels of his national bestseller A Treasury of Royal Scandals, Michael Farquhar turns ...