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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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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
great book for chemistry enthusiasts. It's not a heavy read, so someone with little chemistry background could enjoy this.Published 10 days ago by Angelica
While I do not expect a science book written for the layperson to be written at a highly technical level (nor should it be- given the audience), I do expect it to be correct and... Read morePublished 19 days ago by e2pii
This book flows very well and is almost conversational. Once you are sucked into one of the author's tangents it is hard to put the book down.Published 19 days ago by Amazon Customer
One of the best science and history books I have ever read. The author weaves stories of the characteristics of elements, scientific discovery, and science history in a very... Read morePublished 23 days ago by Mike Forster
I'm sick and tired of the reviews posted buy tired subpar 'experts in their field'. This book deeply supports the intellectual desires of our mind and assures each and everyone of... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Marty L. Illers
Great book and very well written. It was recommended to me by a friend and let's just say I was skeptical of a "cool science book." I have since eaten those words. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Nate Stalsbroten
Really fascinating history of the periodic table - lots of interesting trivia for science geeks!Published 1 month ago by Librarian