Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Disappearing Spoon by Sean Kean

The full title of this book is The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sean Kean. 

The spoon that disappears is made of gallium (Ga, Atomic Number 31), a metal that melts at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. One scientific party gag was to serve tea in Victorian parlors and watch the guests as their teaspoons slowly dissolved away. Scientists are fun that way.

The book is a surprisingly entertaining as well as informative read. 

Kean takes us through a tour of the periodic table of elements, the mainstay of chemistry and physics. As exciting as that sounds (or not), the tour actually includes murder and madness, love and attraction, and a whole lot of history. 

Early in the book the focus is on the development of the table itself as scientists started to notice patterns of characteristics. Not surprisingly, these patterns relate to the deep-diving chemistry and physics of elements and you'll probably learn more about orbital shells and subatomic anatomy through this book than your introductory science class. 

The author goes on to examine specific elements and groups of elements as they come to be known, all while giving a voyeur's look into the often mischievous (and sometimes mad) world of the scientists - both male and female - who discovered them.

Most science and history loving readers should find this book fascinating. Kean's writing style is jam-packed with information and yet easy to read. And even sometimes downright fun. 

The book is definitely worth reading.

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