Review: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

31 Jul

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone with an interest in science, whether that is a little curiosity or a strong devotion, should read this book.

From the Hachette Books website:

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 the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues’ wives when she’d invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

From the Big Bang to the end of time, it’s all in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.

I admit, I thought this book would be more of a novelty, a sit down and leaf through it kind of book. Instead, I found it utterly engrossing in several ways.

I really enjoyed the stories– the stories of people and personalities, of discoveries that were searched for over many years and those that accidentally fell into place, of friendships and partnerships and rivalries.

I also enjoyed the science itself. I consider myself to be a scientifically inclined, so this isn’t a surprise. I’ve got a solid background in chemistry and physics, even if I haven’t thought about them in years, so the concepts weren’t new.

The first few chapters are much heavier on the science, lighter on the stories. If they get to be too much, flip further in and read a chapter. If that’s more to your taste, then just skim through the rest of the first section.

I do think this book is accessible to those with minimal scientific background– I think my daughter learned enough about atomic structure in 5th grade science to understand most of the stories. I don’t think she’d enjoy reading through the whole, but I may encourage her to read specific stories.

I also think there is enough there for those that have been dedicated to science their entire lives. In this case, the names will be familiar, but I think some of the stories will be new, and they will even more fully appreciate following the paths in the histories of the various elements.

I am hosting a giveaway for 2 copies of The Disappearing Spoon, ending August 12. Please check it out.

I received my copy of The Disappearing Spoon for review from Little, Brown and Company. I appreciate them providing me with this opportunity. I’m thinking of buying more copies of it for Christmas presents, and I’m strongly considering buying some copies for my daughter’s school.


Posted by on July 31, 2010 in books, reviews


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9 responses to “Review: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

  1. Trisha

    July 31, 2010 at 7:46 am

    I really do love the premise of this book, and I’m glad to hear you found it to be an engrossing read. Now I’m off to bribe the gods so that I win your giveaway! 🙂

  2. Jenny

    July 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I am NOT into science generally (unless it’s one of the social sciences, LOL) but this book does sound very interesting! I just entered the giveaway.

  3. Lisa

    July 31, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I never was a science nerd in school but I think I would have been if I had had better teachers–my brother had a great science teacher in 8th grade and now has is working on his PhD in something science-y. When my kids were little I totally discovered how much fun science could be and we had great times doing experiments. This book sounds great!

  4. sagustocox

    August 3, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Wow 103 books for the year, already! I wish I were that far along. I’ll be happy to read just 100 again this year.

  5. scienkoptic

    August 25, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    This book sucked. A better alternative would have been “The Making of The Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes which was credited heavily by Kean.
    Many instances where something was mentioned and then dropped with no follow up.
    Things that sounded interesting but Kean seemed to think were only worthwhile mentioning but not elaborating on.
    I’m glad my library had a copy cause I’d been pissed if I had bought a copy.


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