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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales…
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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the…

by Sam Kean (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,557744,707 (3.92)99
Recently added byJohn.Oaks, Bugetta, lacop, AshleyHS, Ray.Gun, Boona, rickinjvl, private library, murderbydeath, njgriffin
  1. 20
    The elements : a visual exploration of every known atom in the universe by Theodore W. Gray (DetailMuse)
  2. 00
    Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks (Katya0133)
    Katya0133: Uncle Tungsten focuses on the author's boyhood love of chemistry and not on the stories of many different people, but both describe a very human relationship with chemical elements.
  3. 00
    Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (DetailMuse)
  4. 00
    The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley (cmbohn)
    cmbohn: In depth about phosphorous, really interesting stuff.
  5. 11
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (amyblue)
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Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
This is a fascinating book about the elements placed in the context of their discovery and their impact on everything. I liked how Kean groups the elements in varous contexts, such as medicine and money. ( )
  krin5292 | Aug 24, 2014 |
This was a really interesting and somewhat fun listen. It went through the table of the elements and joining them with fun stories. I think this would be a great "must read" for teens learning of the table, since it painted a picture for each element. ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
Sam Kean is not a chemist, and he seems to have had little help from a chemistry-literate editor in writing this collection of stories about most of the elements of the periodic table. To a certain extent, his chatty and colloquial style helps to bring chemistry to an audience that is science-phobic (the c-word does not appear in the title or subtitle, presumably for this reason). On the other hand, he has thrown together a bunch of anecdotes without much regard for their credibility and many of the analogies he uses to explain science are mis-aimed. For example, when describing how atomic clocks work, Kean says that cesium atoms play the role of the mainspring of a clock or watch. In fact, they are analogous to the balance wheel or the pendulum. He says that lithium batteries in a pocket full of change can short out, causing a dangerous amount of heat. This is said to be a result of the reactivity of lithium. Well, that is sort of true. But a mercury battery can be shorted the same way, with the same result, despite the fact that mercury is not known for its reactivity. Describing Pasteur's work on the chirality of tartaric acid, he claims that a beam of light from a vertical slit shone into a solution of one of the isomers will deviate away from its original orientation. Intrepid experimentalists who try this will be disappointed, and those who merely read about it will have swallowed a serious misconception. It was frustrating to me that he republished the story of the Radioactive Boy Scout (Hal's Pick of October, 1998), dressing it in scientific respectibility. Kean's organization of the book is idiosyncratic, to say the least ("Elements of War", "How Elements Deceive", and equally uninformative chapter titles), and his descriptions of elemental properties are very often confused with those of their compounds. Kean also does not understand the difference between monochromaticity and coherence as laser properties. Despite its many, many shortcomings, chemistry teachers may find "The Disappearing Spoon" to be a useful collection of anecdotes, but caveat emptor. ( )
1 vote hcubic | Jul 27, 2014 |
Zoomed through this book. I shall have to skim through it again before giving it back. It has really extended the physics I have been reading about into chemistry. A great bridge between quantum physics and multiverses and the real world. (If it is real!) It's a jokey book with lots of human and historical interest as well as the chemistry/physics of the periodic table and I loved the mix and learned a lot. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
Short chapters about the history and properties of various elements. Suitable for assigning individual chapters for short reads.
  MartyBriggs | Jun 11, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kean, SamAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
As a child in the early 1980s, I tended to talk with things in my mouth - food, dentist's tubes, balloons that would fly away, whatever - and if no one else was around, I'd talk anyway.
Quotations
Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (6)

Book description
(from the book jacket) 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) 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, betrayal, and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold, and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery, and alchemy, from the big bang through the end of time.
Haiku summary
Talk of chemistry / usually bores me to tears / But here's Godzilla! (MiaCulpa)

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The periodic table of the elements is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, obsession, and betrayal. These tales follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold, and all the elements in the table as they play out their parts in human history. The usual suspects are here, like Marie Curie (and her radioactive journey to the discovery of polonium and radium) and William Shockley (who is credited, not exactly justly, with the discovery of the silicon transistor)--but the more obscure characters provide some of the best stories, like Paul Emile François Lecoq de Boisbaudran, whose discovery of gallium, a metal with a low melting point, gives this book its title: a spoon made of gallium will melt in a cup of tea.--From publisher description.… (more)

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