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Showing 1-10 of 570 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 757 reviews
on October 28, 2016
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean did a good job providing the reader with the history of the periodic table and the elements. Sam Kean was a writer for the New York Times, the New scientist, and many other famous companies. This book was assigned to our class so that we could better our understanding of the elements. Sam Kean’s goal was to show the history of the periodic table and how the use of the elements has changed over time and he achieved that goal. It was a little slow to begin with, but it started to pick up later throughout the book.
The development of the Periodic Table began in the 1800s. It was created by a Russian Chemist named Dimitri Mendeleev (references to this can be found on page 17 of the book) who was born on February 8, 1834 and died on February 2, 1907. Because of the Periodic Table, scientist were able to better predict what element was to come next. This is because the Periodic Table was well organized and put certain elements into rows and columns, telling the charges and masses of the elements and their atoms. Ernest Rutherford, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, created a way of splitting atoms. This can be found on page 98 of the Disappearing Spoon. He and a student of his also found a new way to look at the atom of an element. Before, many believed that the atom was shaped were certain rays would just pass through them and that the electrons would be placed in “rows.” When Rutherford and his student created the new look of the atom, it astonished chemists and other scientists around the world. They found that the rays can pass through some parts of the atom, but some get bounced back. In 1940, the U.S. government decided to start helping with the fight against the Axis powers. One way they did this, was by asking scientists, like McMillan, to work on things like radar. By creating this, it would help the U.S. take down the Axis powers. Evidence of this can be found on page 117.
As time went on, chemistry started to become more than just the study of matter and elements. It began to be used in other areas of Science. An example of this, is medicine. Certain compounds and elements are used to help heal patients or to strengthen them. Sam talks about how chemistry can even be used to get rid of tumors. Sam says, “Normally, triggering a nano-nuke inside the body is bad, but if doctors can induce tumors to absorb gadolinium, it’s sort of an enemy of a bad thing.” (page 171) Elements have an impact on other parts of the body too. For instance, it can impact one’s taste of something. Sam says, “The taste buds for savory, or unami, lock onto glutamate…” (Page 193).
Overall, the book did a good job teaching about the development of the periodic table and the ever-changing uses of the elements. The parts that show this the best, the Periodic Table and when it was created, the production on radar during WWII, and the use of chemistry and elements in medicine.
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VINE VOICEon February 2, 2014
I suspect those who are scientists would also enjoy this tour of the Periodic Table of Elements, but for the layman this is an engaging and informative science book.

Sam Kean has an excellent structure upon which to delve into basic chemistry and physics. The Periodic Table of Elements names all the atoms known to man and out of which all things that matter (pardon the pun) are made. The elements are divided into broad categories that allow grouping in order to tell not only the history of the science stories behind their discovery, but also the history of man in many cases. Thus, we get general categories that describe structural and behavioral characteristics like the Noble Gases and Transition Metals, but also interesting groupings defined by civilization's usage such as Elements as Money (Gold, platinum and others) and atomic elements (which gives the author the chance to describe the Manhattan project as well as precursor discoveries).

This book will remind fans of Bill Bryson as "Brysonic" in its organization and style. Kean will often transgress into the idiosyncracies of the scientists and discoverors behind the elements. I don't know if great scientists are stranger than the average human, but if this grouping is reflective of the whole, scientists and discoverers and groundbreakers tend to be sharp characters (with an emphasis on both adjectives).

I also learned the basics of physics and chemistry. The author is excellent at laying out basic principles of structure and behavior in a way that I, a non-scientist, was able to understand and appreciate. It reminded me of Bryson's "A Short History of Everything" which I also though was excellent in the way it translated technical information for the non-technician.

In short, an informative and enjoyable work.
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on May 31, 2015
In "The Disappearing Spoon" Sam Kean writes an entertaining and easy to read popular history of science centered around the elements and the periodic table. His lively writing brings both the scientists and the science to light in in easy to digest form, making the book a page turner.

In spite of my enjoyment, I was disappointed with the weak scholarship. The book containing factual inaccuracies, such as the details about the sulfa drugs, the relationship between prontosil and sulfonamide [sic, sulfanilamide], and the significance of sulfur's expanded octet in the chemistry of protosil and sulfanilamide. Although there is a section of notes at the end, there is very little documentation of most of the information provided. In bringing the scientists and their personalities to life, Kean provides little evidence of where the information came from and how much is fact and how much is popular story recorded as history.

Given that the book contains hundreds upon hundreds of stories, I would have liked to have seen a commensurate number of notes citing their sources. I would like to be able to repeat these stories to my own students, as most are likely accurate. Without knowing their sources, I am left wondering how much is the scientists, their personalities, and their actions, and how much is legend.
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on May 5, 2017
If the title said it was about the Periodic table you probably would not be interested in reading it. However, this book is about the many, often unusual, scientists who created and fought over periodic table which did not happen overnight. It was an fascinating and often political process that evolved as new processes and elements were discovered. During the process radioactivity and X-rays were discovered. And, some of those scientists had fun, especially those who made disappearing spoons. One of the newly discovered elements is a metal until it reaches 85 degrees F. Spoons made of this metal would disappear when placed in hot tea. It was a neat parlor trick to watch guests wonder where there spoon went. That's just one of the many interesting stories revealed in this book. There are no formulas and few elemental symbols. A fun informative read.
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on July 5, 2015
Chemistry 101 was the most boring class I had in college. Even a very interesting professor could not make it anything more than dull memorization. The other sciences had reasons for why things were as they were. Chemistry, as taught, was simply lists of things that went together or didn’t go together, had specific properties or didn’t and occasionally did something exciting, like exploding when handled improperly.

Kean’s fascination with the elements began with the shiny silver beads formed when he dropped the thermometers used to take his temperature during frequent childhood bouts of strep throat. “From that one element, I learned history, etymology, alchemy, mythology, literature, poison forensics, and psychology. “ As what seemed a sideline to scientific studies in college, he collected tales about the elements and “realized that there’s a funny, or odd, or chilling tale attached to every element on the periodic table. At the same time, the table is one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind. It’s both a scientific accomplishment and a storybook.”

In his telling, the scientists and occasional con artists come alive. And the elements themselves step forward as characters. Who can resist an explanation of the carbon basis of life that contains the statement, “That promiscuity is carbon’s virtue”? Or an aside such as, “(When pitcher plants and Venus flytraps trap insects, it’s the bugs’ nitrogen they’re after.)” There are references to “poisoners’ corridor”, “malfunctioning molecules “and ”one oared rowboats”. One of the clearest explanations of the basic concept of electron shells is a bus metaphor.

True science that avoids the pop fiction version and makes the real thing fascinating reading.
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on October 31, 2016
Jackson Evans
Mr. Halkyard
Honors Chem-H

Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon is a book about the periodic table throughout the ages. Sam Kean accomplishes this by relating chemistry to historical events. Throughout the book, he does a good job making chemistry fun and easy to remember and keeps the reader engaged.

Sam Kean’s stories make the elements fun and easy to recall. For example, berkelium and californium, during bombing experiments were elements that were hard for me to remember, but after reading the book, I could remember them like the back of my hand. Another example, although unrelated to chemistry, was how he put fun facts throughout the book, such as when he speaks about the longest word. Overall, the book made chemistry fun, and easy to remember.

The author, through his stories and fun facts, kept the reader engaged. The book made me want to read his work more. He speaks how chemistry was used throughout time, how it was used in our daily lives, etc. This kept me engaged, and, once again made chemistry fun and easy to remember.

In conclusion, disappearing spoon helped me to remember chemistry, made it fun, and kept me engaged, even though it was about chemistry.
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on June 13, 2013
The Disappearing Spoon is a collection of stories associated with the Periodic Table. If you like idle gossip, the story telling is similar, it's just laced with knowledge. Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to almost anyone (yes, even the ones who despised high school chem.). The humor of the author is almost as apparent as his intelligence and is quite engaging. It is one of those books where you can read a couple chapters, get a few great tidbits, and skip around to a completely different area and not be lost. For that reason it is a killer road trip/vacation book for those who don't want heavy reading material but don't want to feel as though they've gained nothing from their reading experience. In fact, quit reading my rambling review and just buy the damn thing. If you don't like it then you wasted a few bucks and may have learned something in the process.
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on December 5, 2016
If you take your studies seriously, there will be times where you're a bit burnt out. Enter into a book like Sam Kean's "The Disappearing Spoon". It's fun, yet knowledgable. Like one of those teachers that could inspire a passion in you about a topic where none existed before.

It's easy to glance at the periodic table. Perhaps a bit harder still to understand the fantastic trends of periodicity or electron clouds, but it's all there. The history of the table is substantially less well known to even interested students of the sciences like myself. I found it riveting to learn about the soap opera level dramatics that go on during the naming of elements. It was eye-opening to read about the many hard working and honest scientists who kept their noses to the grindstone, sometimes disbelieving of the novel phenomena they observed.

This was a great book and one that I will happily recommend to others when they need a break from hitting the books.
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on November 6, 2015
Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon: Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements presents the history and function of the periodic table in an interesting, well crafted novel. With a degree in English and physics, Kean is quite qualified to be writing this book. This review’s purpose is to let you know how great this book is for students, chemistry fanatics, and people bored out of their minds.
The book takes liberties that the overall book benefits from. At the beginning of every chapter, Kean introduces multiple elements that serve as a guide for the chapter. The chapter then goes into detail about how these elements were discovered (in some cases created), benefitted science, or just flat out do nothing.
One of the greatest attributes of the book are the lessons woven into the chapters. Anyone with a passing interest in chemistry will appreciate his facts about the protons’ and electrons’ purpose in an atom. Kean talks about how every atom of an element has shells filled with different amounts of electrons and the stableness of octets, shells with eight electrons and no extra electrons. He also explains the natural nuclear reactor in Oklo, Gabon, Africa and how its uranium deposits acted as natural fission reactor for billions of years prior to mankind’s inception.
As mentioned before, Kean delves into the history of the periodic table and its many contributors like Glenn Seaborg. Seaborg was a well renowned chemist who served as both the lead on the Manhattan Project and advisor to President Ronald Reagan. He was the first to discover transuranic elements which he then would announce on the television show Quiz Kids. Another chemist Kean gives the spotlight to is Marie Curie. The Polish scientist married a French physicist who later began work on uranium. Their discovery that the electron bonds in radioactive elements have no effect on its radioactivity earned both of them the Nobel Prize in physics. Kean gives a great amount of detail for each of the scientists he chooses to focus on. Whether it be details about their backgrounds, discoveries, or tragedies, Kean does a fantastic job of presenting the given information.
Anyone with any level of interest in chemistry should read this book. Kean’s detailed analysis of the often overlooked history of the periodic table gives readers a new angle in which to view chemistry. The recounting of Oklo’s reactor’s discovery and Marie Curie’s constant stream of tragedies not only educates readers about the stories connected to the periodic table but gives them a sense of the gravity and importance of each individual story.
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on November 4, 2015
The title of this book is The Disappearing Spoon and is written by Sam Kean. The main purpose of this book is to teach the reader new things about elements. It gives the reader information about new elements that you may have never heard of. It gives information about where does this element originate from, how it was discovered, who discovered it, and how it is used. Sam Kean, a major in physics, did a very good job on explaining the history of some of the elements in the periodic table, he also gave some advices on how to memorize the whole periodic table. This book was given to me for homework by my Chemistry teacher, Mr. Halkyard. The reason why this book was written is because Sam Kean wanted to teach people new stuff that they didn’t know about Chemistry. Although the book taught me many new stuff about elements, it dragged on too much.
Each chapter in The Disappearing Spoon focused on a new element. The book focuses also on the history of the periodic table by way of stories showing how each element affected the people who discovered the elements, for either good or bad. There are many scientist who are mentioned in this book such as, Marie Curie who her discovery of Radium almost ended her career. Even though this books accounts some stories of scientist who their career was almost ended by their own studies, this book also tells some true and great achievements in the field of science.
What I liked most about The Disappearing Spoon is how it manages to teach you many things. I personally like how Sam Kean gives you history about the element he is teaching you. He tells you who discovered it and how he discovered it. Sam Kean does a good job on telling how the element is used in modern day or also how it was used in the past. Although Sam Kean does a good job on teaching us stuff, he sometimes gives us too much information. I noticed that there were some chapters that were just plain useless. There was a chapter that I found interesting which was when he tells how different types of elements were used in the war, but then he goes on in other chapters about it. Another chapter that I found useless was Chapter 16. He talks about bubbles, even though a lot of people like bubbles this was another chapter that could have remained in his notes.
Although some stuff in this book was not worth mentioning, I enjoyed this book. The book teaches a lot, and it has a meaning to it. Some things about this book that are worth mentioning is how Sam Kean does a very good job on giving history on the element. It is important that some one know who found the element and from where did it come. The Disappearing Spoon is a great book for students who want to learn new stuff and teach new stuff.
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