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Book Review! The Disappearing Spoon…

You may or may not have noticed that last Friday was review-less on the book front. For that, I apologize! Too much work, not enough time, yadda, yadda, yadda. Someday I’ll hit the lottery and dedicate all of my time to book related endeavors, never missing a Friday review again. (Ahhh, the imagination. What a wonderful thing.)

Over the last two weeks, I’ve read a number of books and while some were better than others, this one stuck out. In a good way! Since we’re all nerds here, I think it might be something you’d enjoy too…

It’s The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean.

All right, time for a confession: I don’t really care about chemistry. I liked it well enough in high school but it’s not something that I’m particularly apt to think about on a rainy Sunday afternoon (much to our Science Nerdist’s dismay, I’m sure). So why did I pick up this particular book? Honestly, I liked the description and figured that my abysmal knowledge of the Periodic Table of Elements could use a makeover. Plus, I’m a huge history nerd.

Here’s the description:
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.

They sold me at glow-in-the-dark experiments and Godzilla. This book is absolutely delightful. Sam Kean strikes a brilliant flow between knowledge and fun facts, between a boring science class and a hilarious set by a talented comedian. It’s not the kind of book that holds your hand and walks you through everything though, it assumes that you have basic scientific knowledge.

A friend of mine was reading this at the same time (we’re book buddies! But I digress…) and she insisted that I tell you, wonderful nerdlings, that she felt like parts of this book went right over her head. Admittedly, she slept through most of her science classes in school and yet! She thoroughly enjoyed the book. Especially the part about poet Robert Lowell and whether lithium ruined him with sanity.

Kean is a fantastic teacher. I only wish I had an instructor with such enthusiasm and anecdotal story telling ability on this subject (or any subject) in high school. Or college. The best thing about this book and about the way Kean puts it together is that it makes you think. He isn’t spoon feeding you knowledge, he isn’t assuming you know everything about the subject but he doesn’t treat you like a dumbass either.

Like any celebrity’s biography or memoir or tell-all orrrr whatever you want to call it, this book is chocked full of scandals and lies, explosions and fraud, love and loss. Yeah, I said it. Explosions.

Do yourself a favor, if you’re at all historically or scientifically inclined, and give it a read. Even if you’re not so inclined, have at it! It’s an enjoyable book that brings to life a facet of science that most of us cringed about come test time. There won’t be any cringing here (well, until you get to the part about the dude who turns blue) and you’ll learn something.

Knowledge is power! Learning is fun! Go for it!

As always, leave your thoughtful comments here, on Twitter or email me at booknerdist@gmail.com!

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6 comments

  • I am reading this book right now and after the first 6 pages, I am bored as hell. Sure he tries to make it interesting, but the book just feels to corny.

  • It’s The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean.

    I like the title of this book and i enjoyed your review. I plan to purchase this book. It looks like a great read. thanks again.

    ~Everything I am encountering, including frantic events that pull me down far inside my soul, can become meaningful and purposeful, for all personal struggles have validity in my private destiny. Every choice, thought, decision I perform today makes an imprint on the fabric of the next set of experiences and potentialities that course my way. One set of decisions apparently leads to growth, transformation and happiness, while the other may lead to nervous tension, gripping difficulties and shards of frustration. Assimilating this information and forcing my mind to behave appropriately is essential. I’ve learned how to be brave when recalling the stages of my past. ~ C.J. Good, author

  • Jessica, great book reviews, and this one definitely made it onto my to do list, but when are we going to hear about some of Chris’ non-fiction selections? Fiction is sort of a guilty pleasure, it’s much easier to justify the time spent on non-fiction.

  • I am reading that book right now (almost done) and am enjoying it immensely. I do find that some things go over my head, and would have appreciated a few diagrams (as I saw suggested in another review of the book), but overall everything is presented in such an easy-to-follow way. I bought it because I thought my son would enjoy it (he’s fascinated by elements), but I started reading it and got swept up in it immediately. Highly recommended. (and I disliked chemistry –I don’t know if I would have disliked it so much had I read stories about the elements such as this).