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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements Paperback – June 6, 2011
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
(un)Official bio: Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota, which means more to him than it probably should. He's a fast reader but a very slow eater. He went to college in Minnesota and studied physics and English. At night, he sometimes comes down with something called "sleep paralysis," which is the opposite of sleepwalking. Right now, he lives in Washington, D.C., where he earned a master's degree in library science that he will probably never use. He feels very strongly that open-faced sandwiches are superior to regular ones.
Top Customer Reviews
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 lithium ruin his work by making him sane? Who knew the lies and fraud and mind games played by scientists intent on getting a Nobel Prize!
There's no getting around it, this is a book that makes you think. It's not simple and it assumes you have a basic knowledge of science. Some areas were over my head, but not for long. Kean is a wonderful teacher with a sassy wise guy voice that livens up any of the deeper areas.
Everybody should read this book, period.
Dr. Eric Scerri, author of The Periodic Table, Its Story and Its Significance, Oxford University Press, 2006.
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 fact, the diarrheal action of mercuric chloride does not depend on its being a compound of a poisonous element.
The enzyme tryptophan synthetase is referred to as "a relative of [tryptophan]". It is not. Tryptophan synthetase is a protein and therefore a string of amino acid molecules, while tryptophan is simply one of many amino acids . Tryptophan synthetase catalyzes some of the reactions by which tryptophan is synthesized. Although tryptophan is by coincidence a component of tryptophan synthetase, the enzyme is not "related to" tryptophan any more than to any other of its constituent amino acids.
A real howler is the description of the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter as "the first intergalactic collision humans ever witnessed.Read more ›
But overall, it was a great read. Kean has a great sense of comic timing and is a wonderful story teller. I especially enjoyed the story of aluminum (aka aluminium), which I had never heard.
Just ignore most of the chemistry being "taught"! Start in Chapter 2.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very entertaining and often funny, which is not something you normally imagine about when reading a book about the periodic table. Read morePublished 7 days ago by Snuffski
Book had been available for high school chemistry in my time
I would have been a much more enthusiastic student
I ordered these for convenience and didn't expect the quality to be much more than what you would get buying loose silverware at Wal-Mart. I was pleasantly surprised . Read morePublished 16 days ago by Donya Wilson
What a fun and engaging way to learn about these elements. My 10 year old loves this book as a History buff! Read morePublished 19 days ago by C. COOPER