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The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table Paperback – 28 Jul 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (28 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552777501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552777506
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"...brimming with puckish wit ... his love for the elements is downright infectious ... He gives science a whiz-bang verve so that every page becomes one you cannot wait to turn just to see what he's going to reveal next."--Caroline Leavitt, Boston Globe

"Kean has Bill Bryson's comic touch... a lively history of the elements and the characters behind their discovery."--New Scientist

"A non-stop parade of lively science stories... with the éclat of raw sodium dropped in a beaker of water."--New York Times

"Unpacks the periodic table's bag of tricks ... with such aplomb and fascination that material normally as heavy as lead transmutes into gold ... the anecdotal flourishes of Oliver Sacks and the populist accessibility of Malcolm Gladwell"--Entertainment Weekly

"Only once in a rare while does an author come along with the craft and the vision to capture the fun and fascination of chemistry. The Disappearing Spoon is a pleasure and full of insights. If only I had read it before taking chemistry"--Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod and Salt

"One of the most readable and entertaining books about science yet published ... [Kean] is master of enlightening metaphors"--Daily Express

"This book is entirely entertaining - it's a real page turner, and there's very little not to like about the combination of a string of QI like fascinating facts with a whole slew of engaging stories ... a delight to read, taking a very predictable subject and approaching it in an entertaining, original and informative way ... if you want to be entertained and find out lots of history and fascinating facts around the elements themselves, this is the one for you."--Popularscience.co.uk

"This book is the literary equivalent of a prime-time documentary on the Discovery Channel or BBC1: populist, accesible, and elementary (boom-boom!), without being simplistic ... You don't need to know your p from your d orbitals to understand, enjoy and learn from a book carefully written by an author keen to share his enthusiasm with a wider audience ... even for those of us with science backgrounds, The Disappearing Spoon remains diverting and entertaining ... The cast of characters makes it entertaining and accesible ... Given the lamentable state of education about science among the general public, we should applaud Kean's ability to bring chemistry to the masses."--Mark Greener, Fortean Times

Book Description

Fascinating and hilarious true stories from the Periodic Table - Shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2011

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Quicksilver TOP 1000 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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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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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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Format: 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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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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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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