The 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 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.