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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, enjoyable, up there with the best
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...
Published on 28 Oct. 2011 by the tall one

versus
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Toxic prose style
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...
Published on 13 May 2011 by Richard J. Pountain


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, enjoyable, up there with the best, 28 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (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
5.0 out of 5 stars PErIODyC BLiSS, 31 Oct. 2011
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (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. This allows him to vary his discussion points from the traditional HHeLiBeBCNOF approach, making for a less proscribed read. There book also contains a fair amount of biography of the world's scientific giants. The rivalries, the friendships, the mistakes and the serendipitous discoveries, of some of the world's greatest Chemists and Physicists, are laid out in an informative and entertaining manner. In the final chapter Kean pontificates on the future of table, laying out some innovations in science, the like of which I hadn't heard.

I quite often fall asleep when reading this type of book, and I didn't once during the 'Disappearing Spoon'. Indeed it's testament to how good it is, that I read it gripped, well beyond midnight knowing that two fractious boys would wake me up in less than six hours. My chemistry days are long behind me, but Kean's book reminded me what I loved about the subject, and gave me pause to think that just maybe I was a little hasty in giving it up. Ignore the detractors, this is popular science at its best.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's now one of my favourite non-fiction books!, 29 Nov. 2011
By 
Ad Wright (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (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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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Toxic prose style, 13 May 2011
By 
Richard J. Pountain "dickp" (London UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but with unforgivable errors, 26 Jun. 2013
By 
C. E. Elliott - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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The tales behind the discovery and exploitation of various elements are fascinating and well-told.

The errors in basic scientific understanding, however, are unforgivable. One example:

"thorium-233. Unstable thorium-233 undergoes beta decay by spitting out an electron, and because charges always balance in nature, when it loses a negative electron, thorium also converts a neutron to a positive proton." No - losing an electron means that the remaining atom needs to lose a proton to remain in balance.

Similar errors cause issues throughout the book. This is a real shame, as good technical editing would have resulted in a fantastic book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars not recommended, 17 Oct. 2013
By 
Mr. K. H. Cobb (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (Paperback)
I wrote a longish review of this quite a while ago, but Amazon have removed it of the grounds that I was being spiteful in criticizing the author rather than the book. Someone may have complained, as I admit I did a bit of a hatchet job on both. Fair enough. I won't write it all again, but I found the American jokiness in which the book is written extremely irritating, and had found ten serious factual errors or errors in understanding by the time I had got through twenty pages. If you want a few anecdotes of past scientists this will do, but it will not improve your understanding of actual scientific and chemical concepts. It may well do the opposite.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Entertaining - and a bit of a Challenge, 13 April 2015
This is one of many books on the Periodic Table. A fair review would compare them, of course, but the only other I have read is Aldersey-Williams. Both are written for the interested lay reader. Both are good. To Kean, anyway.

Sam Kean is a journalist on Scientific American and an engaging writer, evident in the books he has written on neurology and genetics. Here he takes us from the origins of the universe to possible future encounters with aliens, with whom, he suggests, we will have only π and the periodic table in common.

He covers all the elements, arranged by theme in 20 short chapters. There is a great deal of historical anecdote, illuminating and amusing. The great men and women of science are as important to him as atomic weight and half-life. All will have heard of Curie and Einstein, but Donald Glaser who conceived of the cloud chamber while watching bubbles in his Bud? Many find his style grates, too Top Gear not enough Open University. But I liked it.

But this is more than knockabout history, The author is also good on expounding the science underlying the properties, uses and abuses of the elements. I think you need high school chemistry to get into this book. It is not a textbook on basic science, not an introduction . Some of the concepts I struggled with, but I was encouraged to find out more and follow up quantum dots and the alpha constant.

This is what I like about the author – he really does educate in the sense of opening your mind and leading you onto other ideas. Also his science is for us all – who knows it may be you or me who has to explain the periodic table to visitors from another galaxy
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could have been better with some Chemistry in it, 2 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting and scientifically rich book, 27 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and highly readable, 22 Jan. 2012
By 
M Shepheard - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (Paperback)
I was given this book as a Christmas present, and while I am generally sceptical about the quality of a lot of popular science writing, this book gave me cause to rethink my preconceptions. I found this book enjoyable to read, easy to follow, and full of interesting anecdotes. The author runs with three narratives through the book: the history of the periodic table and the discovery of the elements, the physics behind the properties of the elements and their formation and a well-framed description of how these elements have been involved in the course of human progress through history. I appreciated that none of the narratives outweighed the others, and the book felt like it had a nice balance of solid science and witty anecdotes. The final synthesis is rationally and enjoyably presented and since reading this I have recommended this book to many of my friends and colleagues.
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