Thursday, August 30, 2012

ReView of 'The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements': All the Stories that Map It

NonFiction, Science/Chemistry, History of Science ; (394pgs)
Little Brown and Company

What makes The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and The History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements such a phenomenal book on science is absolutely its stories, pools of information, and the elements themselves.  Sam Kean is definitely one of the best science writers I have ever read until now, and he has absolutely mesmerized me with his accounts of some of the most incredible historical moments in the history of the periodic table.  The book, no doubt, is a reference on science and I know I'll come back to this book to recount some of the best and most useful of information.  The elements of the periodic tables are the heroes of the book, they are the celebrities of chemistry, as you come to find out in this book.

Sam Kean says that "people remember the table with a mix of fascination, fondness, inadequacy, and loathing."  I say, he's completely right, well maybe with the exception with a few of us.  I definitely remember it as such.  So how does this book change our perception from such a point-of-view?  The answer is obvious in something Sam Kean says in 'Conversation with Sam Kean' at the end of the book.  He gives us the stories we want to remember, stories that are worth talking about, stories that make the periodic table a topic of thought.

"we remember information better if it's woven into stories, and you can actually learn a lot more science than you'd expect by learning about the strange and wonderful events in science history."

There are quite a few stories that stand out in my mind now that I have finished the book.  The first of which is how he came to name the book.  It turns out gallium, which looks and behaves a lot like aluminum and happens to sit right below it, has an unusual property - it melts at temperatures just above room temperature.  So the joke sometimes happens to be giving someone who's drinking hot tea a spoon made from gallium and watch it melt in the process.  
There are so many other stories I remember about certain elements.  Tellerium is apparently the only element that bonds chemically to gold creating an Australian craze for tellerium-bound-gold.  The story about sillicone-based life is one you do not want to miss.  The story of thallium, the deadliest element on the periodic table, is another one of stories you just have to read about.  And if it's not enough, Sam Kean will give you his top five stories/elements

I have mention it, and I will mention it again, but this book isn't just a mix of stories, but a pool of science information.  You want to know how the periodic table is organized?  Read this book.  You want to know how the elements relate to one another and what each column really means? Read this book.  You don't have to have a science background to know about the period table.  Sam Kean has made it extremely accessible to have an introduction to chemistry & science.

All in all you do not want to miss this book if you are a lover of the science, if you have a curiosity for the science and especially chemistry, or if you are just a person who enjoys reading about history.  

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