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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 Hardcover – 5 Aug 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown US; 1 edition (5 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316051640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316051644
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.2 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 477,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surfaace, Kean writes with wit, flair and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers' - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Book Description

Incredible stories of love, history, and the nature of mankind, brought to us by the Periodic Table.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By the tall one on 28 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
I completely disagree with the "Toxic prose style" review. I found the book highly enjoyable, and I thought the writing style was appropriate for the type of book, i.e. an engaging, thought provoking, sometimes witty and always fascinating account of the people and history behind the periodic table. I also found that the "gaffe" mentioned by that reviewer did not exist in my copy - it says "menthol" not "methanol". I suspect that either he has a defective copy, or that he needs to read it again properly. This excellent book is going to turn a fair number of kids (and adults) on to chemistry and science. It will not appeal to those who bought it by mistake, expecting a dry chemistry textbook.

This is up there with the best popular science books.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Quicksilver TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 31 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
This book has come under a bit of criticism on these pages, seemingly for having an American author. Whilst it's true many of the measurements quoted are imperial, which is a bit of an anathema to modern science (I'm not sure many chemists use Fahrenheit these days), it doesn't take much too much effort to 'translate' them into metric. Since this is a popular science book aimed originally at a US audience, the American terminology and weights and measures, is more than forgiveable. If you really can't abide the thought of Jello or Hershey bars, and only ever give your height in cm and weight in Kg, then by all means pass on this book, but if you do, you are missing out an a treat.

At first I wasn't convinced. Kean's jovial writing style does grate at first. It's like he's trying to be Bill Bryson's (who gets the inevitable name check on the front cover) hip young nephew. Then there was a confusing, arm-waving description of electron configuration in atoms, that probably only makes sense if you already understand how it works (short of forcing my wife to read it, I can't easily verify this). But things rapidly get better. Kean style settles down (or I got used to it) and after that his descriptions and analogies are pretty much spot on.

There is very little hard science in this book. For that I recommend (as does Kean) John Emsley's Nature's Building Blocks). Instead Kean treats us to a social and industrial history of many of the elements, and the unknown (to most) ways in which they are important in our everyday lives. Kean wanders rather haphazardly through the table, often discussing elements that are far apart on the table together in the same chapter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ad Wright on 29 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the second time I've read this book. The first time I took it out the library but it was so good that I had to buy my own. This is because I know I'll read it several times over. It's full of really interesting anecdotes and fascinating information about chemistry, history, physics, geology, etc.
If you're interested understanding the periodic table more then this is definately the book for you. I would go as far to say that every student (studying science or not) should have to read it.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Pountain on 13 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
I found this book, which has been rapturously reviewed and received, almost unreadable because of the supposedly popular style in which it's written. Crammed with crass similes that are supposed to be helpful, sopping with US frat-boy slang, it's also grossly inaccurate in many places. To quote but one gaffe from page 192:

"Peppermint cools your mouth because minty methanol seizes up cold receptors...."

I trust that Wrigley's will not be substituting methanol for menthol because it makes you go blind (this is on a par with a recent fungus book that listed the Death Cap as edible). There's little point advising people to avoid the book because it's clear that no-one can tell the difference any more.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stirling English on 2 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
Interesting and mostly fun read...it does exactly what it says on the tin. A voyage around the elements illuminated by human stories.

Two quibbles: It is quite US centric - the tale of DNA structure is told from the perspective of the failed US researcher - Pauling, rather than from the successful British/US team. I have no idea what Jell-O is m nor anything to do with Hershey bars.......this begins to grate after a while.

And second - in its attempt to not frighten the general reader it leaves out almost anything to do with actual chemistry. And the bits it does skirt round (the influence of electron shells in valency and bonding for example) it treats in such a juvenile 'gee whizz - think how clever the scientists must be to understand this stuff' sort of a way that it also grates.

I think that the author could have credited the reader with just a little more intelligence and tried to go a little deeper - maybe even with some diagrams - to show a bit more of how the table is constructed and the deep structure behind it. Instead, we are left with a series of mostly disconnected anecdotes which are entertaining but don't help much with an understanding of Chemistry.

But maybe I'm a bit biased towards my long ago subject :-)

SE, MSC (Chemistry)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a chemist and I'm always looking for some scientific books, so when I came upon this one I decided to give it a go. As soon as I started it I got extremely hooked and couldn't stop reading it!

It has got a vast amount of curious and scientifically interesting facts and gives a profound insight into the lives of many scientists, not only talking about their main discoveries, but also describing their social interactions and their growing up in a sort of story-telling way that makes each page so interesting!

You will be able to learn about the discovery of the elements and will also learn so many fun facts about them! Did you know that berillium has a sweet taste that resembles that of sugar?

The book also goes into such diverse topics as nuclear physics and toxicology, always linking an element to an event in history!

So, if you're looking for a really interesting scientific book, then do buy this one!
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