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40 Reviews
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PErIODyC BLiSS
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...
Published on 31 Oct 2011 by Quicksilver

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a tale told by an idiot
The style in which the book is written is irritating - a sort of American jokiness intended to stop the reader losing interest if presented with something difficult. That's a personal view, I know. What has made me increasingly angry on reading it is that so much is WRONG. I'm up to page 21 and am unlikely to go any further, but look at a few things so far.

"An...
Published 11 months ago by Mr. K. H. Cobb


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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better Than I'd Expected, 7 Sep 2010
This was a very interesting read. Yes, it is built around the Periodic Table and goes into great detail about it's prehistory and history. But along the way, as well as the characteristics, uses etc. of the elements, there is a mass of history and stories about the people who worked on the table: why they did what they did, their problems, adventures, successes, and so much more. Also here is a lot of science, chemistry of course, but also physics, biology and more. Mr Getting found this a disadvantage, and the wrong details for him. If you want tabulated details of the atomic weights and numbers, and all the technical details of their characteristics, of course buy some text books. For anyone who enjoys a wide spread in their history, it gives a good read. It is not a text book of the elements, and isn't intended to be, but if you want to gain an insight into how science and scientists work, buy this.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Eclectic Oddity That Charms, 22 Dec 2010
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
"For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." -- 2 Corinthians 13:8 (NKJV)

In recent years, science has increasingly been described in new ways by clever writers who can combine several parts of entertainment with every foundational bit of information. For me, The Disappearing Spoon represents a new element, one that has more entertainment ingredients than ever before . . . but also a good bass line that continually develops the theme of how atoms and subatomic particles behave. It's a whole new kind of jazz, and I liked it.

I also like boysenberry pie, but if I eat too much of that delight, it doesn't agree with me. At times I felt the same way about The Disappearing Spoon, as it often overfilled me with cocktail tidbits that didn't really advance the story.

The book's overall design is to describe how the periodic table evolved and what can be understood by looking at the placement of various elements. I must admit that it was all vaguely familiar. It must have been covered in some chemistry or geology class I took along the way. So far so good. A positive addition was an update on newer elements, discoveries about older elements, a connection to quantum mechanics, and a link to biology. Very nice.

Mr. Kean acutely fleshes out his tales with many references to the scientists, how facts were uncovered or obscured, and more than a few ironies about Nobel prizes and personal habits. It's sort of history of science with a gossipy slant.

To demonstrate key points, the book draws on well-known historical moments to demonstrate how science can shed new light on events that puzzle and fascinate the public. Some of this works well (such as in dealing with spy poisonings) but less well in other cases (the uniforms the French wore on the way to Moscow). A good editor could have tightened up this aspect quite a bit.

There's also some plain old gossip. I could have done without that.

The book also takes random dives in dating various things, but does so in a sporadic fashion that didn't add much to the story . . . other than to show that scientists can make mistakes, too.

Did I have fun? Sure. But the information I'll retain could have been neatly captured into about a quarter of the space. I'm not sure I had that much fun to warrant the extra length.

I also notice that the publisher charges way too much for the Kindle version. How scientific is that?
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Periodic brilliance littered with irritations, 6 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Paperback)
I was given this book for Christmas 2011 and was really looking forward to reading it. Notice the four star review - that means I enjoyed it as an introduction to the Periodic Table and the chemistry (not physics) involved in its development. I enjoyed the stories behind the discovery of each of the elements, the characterization of the elements themselves (some of them are BAD boys!) and indeed the characters who discovered them. The writing style was easy going and in the style of Bill Bryson i.e. informative yet laid back, none of the intensive "listen to me, this is important!" that you so often get in science related books. I did, however, have to drop one star due to the number of times I had to re-read very many sentences and paragraphs because the grammer and punctuation did not make for flowing prose. Over use of the "-" instead of commas or brackets was irritating and the sometimes disjointed flow of the dialog confused me, almost like getting driving directions in kilometers when you are expecting miles. I had to reverse and go more slowly to ensure I stayed on track.

On the whole an excellent introduction to the Periodic Table spoilt only by my inability to hold on to Sam Kean's grammatical coat-tails tight enough.

All in all recommended reading for those with an interest in this iconic table of the elements.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More about the history of chemistry than the periodic table, 27 Nov 2011
By 
E. Sharman (Warwickshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Paperback)
This is a bit of a strange book. The title and descriptions might well pull in a lot of people who would like to know more about this 'periodic table' thing, but I believe that many of those readers will be left bemused and confused. The descriptions about the structure of the table are like listening to a mad professor who makes comments of lucidity and insight - if you listen hard. It's a confusing narrative - on the 'geeky' bits - and is NOT described in laymans terms.

I have a degree in Physics and Chemistry and although it was 30 years ago, I've maintained an interest in all matters scientific. But on many occasions I was re-reading passages wondering how it jumped from 'this' to 'that' - it's as though the author just expects you to know your stuff. Be warned - by the end of the second chapter you are expected to 'get' not only the various shells that electrons inhabit around the nucleus, but that we have p orbitals and s orbitals, Now I know about these things, but still had to shake my head and go again. The author then assumes your knowledge is at the right level and hence feels free to talk 'tecchie' - for example about how electrons in the rare earths inhabit shells in oddish ways and this makes the rare earths odd. Job done? Well, not for me, at any rate.

BUT on the other hand, the descriptions of the discovery and use of the elements is terrific and that alone makes the book thoroughly worthwhile to buy and read. My advice: if you don't know the geeky bits, don't worry, just read the informative narrative and you'll be amply rewarded.

As to the reviews by other writers which amount to some issue with 'dumbing down' - I don't get the problem. This is a book which is trying to popularise science - if you want a textbook 'heavy' version, there are plenty around. What is the author supposed to do, apart from trying to make what some would regard as a dry and boring subject, other than entertain, be amusing, and be informative.

So with the caveat that I started with, this book gets a big thumbs up overall from me.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Disappearing Editor, 28 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Kindle Edition)
The Disappearing spoon sells itself as a witty and accessible journey through the history of the periodic table. And to a certain degree it is but it suffers from a lack of focus. It's neither a Bryson-esque travelogue through history, nor is it a serious science book (neither of which it claims to be, in fairness). However it falls somewhere in between. Sometime an element will take us down the pathways of a scientists battles with authority or personal relationships, other times the element is studied in such detail of how it interacts on a sub atomic level that it's difficult to keep up.
This occasional assumption that the reader understands certain aspects of physics or chemistry can be a problem. I have secondary school level knowledge of both, allowing me to follow the popular science descriptions with ease, then all of a sudden there would be mention of a reaction and discussion of the consequences with no explanation of what happened in the middle. Hang on, how did that just become `amazonium-273' you're left thinking, it was googlelium-44 a second ago!
And the editing on this particular edition is terrible in places. (I say this edition, I read the Kindle version and other editions this may have been fixed.) Sometimes I would read a sentence but not be able to parse it, going back because I assumed I didn't understand the science I realised that actually there was a word missing or the syntax was just wrong. This is not me being the grammar police, my grammar is worse than most, but it looks like the book was rushed in to print without a proper edit job.
All that aside, there's lots to enjoy here, the discovery of nearly all elements is discussed and some of the stories of the politics around the Nobel committee or how scientists were pursued by the Nazis in the `30s are gripping and genuinely fascinating.
Much of the science is equally gripping and the author very obviously loves this subject and when he gets excited by a subject it shows in the writing, perhaps a reasons why some of it seems rushed and for that reason the slight quality problems are easily forgivable.
A good popular science book which could do with a clean edit and a bit of the chaff cut away but enjoyable even so.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 16 Aug 2010
By 
Paul Griffiths (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A good popular science book. UK readers will no doubt be annoyed by the occasional use of US measures such as the pound and ºF rather than SI units. Also readers without a grounding in chemistry may be mystified by the numerous references to electron shell filling and how this effects the properties of the various elements. However, the historic anecdotes are both interesting and in many cases amusing making this a good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Paperback)
Good reading
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Periodic Table Explained!, 4 April 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Hardcover)
Only had a quick flick through as it looks quite a read, it seems tackle a huge and complicated subject in an interesting and lighthearted way.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a great synopsis, 30 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Paperback)
I bought this book after reading the synopsis which suggested that the book was full of "fascinating tales" of the elements and how their discovery shaped our world history. After reading it, it appeared to me to be 99% stories of how the elements were discovered and only a few paragraphs of the promised historic tales.
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1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So Confused, 26 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon (Paperback)
I'm a retired teacher. Thought it about time I got my head around this topic, since all the students had to study the table and be tested on it. Science was not my subject but I thought surely at my age I can do what a 15 yr old can.
Not so. I really tried. But I'm afraid this was one of those rare books that I just couldn't "pick up"!!
Sorry
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