Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?
The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery and alchemy, from the big bang through to the end of time.
The Disappearing Spoon Sam Kean Little, Brown and company, 2010 Source: Library
The Disappearing Spoonis perfect for science buffs with a deep appreciation of history. However, while I was reading it, I thought, “So this is how Penny feels when her friends on The Big Bang Theory are talking.” I enjoyed the hearing about the historical context of the elements on the periodic table. My favorite parts were those pertaining to gossip about the scientists researching and/or discovering the elements. Marie Curie had a particularly interesting and scandalous life. However, I did not understand much about the elements themselves.
Furthermore, I was expecting a more organized book. I thought that each chapter would cover an element, and then it would move on to other elements, and that the whole thing would be quite boring. However, many elements are mentioned in many chapters. So many elements’ stories are interwoven that Kean’s approach makes for a far more engaging read. Also, his writing style is engrossing and witty, which also make his work delightful. Those who like Kean’s books will enjoy him just as much, if not more, as a speaker. I highly recommend that, provided the opportunity, readers attend one of his author talks.