Monday, March 26, 2012

Book review: The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Sam Kean)

This wonderfully quirky, fascinating, and just plain fun read moves the periodic table of the elements off of the dusty walls of chemistry classrooms and into living, breathing narrative.

Back when I was in high school, the periodic table was presented to me in all its (not quite, as it turned out) completed glory, assembled and whole, and after memorizing the first several elements, utilizing it in balancing equations, and repeated the information on the tests without giving it further thought, and like most high school chemistry students, likely thought it sprang fully formed from the head of Dmitri Mendeleev, and was the only possible arrangements of the elements. Yet, as Sam Kean has revealed in his book, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Disappearing Spoon (so named for a practical joke scientists play involving gallium) offers a fascinating glimpse into not only how the table came to be, but also provides a story connected to each element on the table that is both compelling and entertaining.

While chemistry students and teachers will no doubt find this book a must read, The Disappearing Spoon is written to appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in science, history, and even literature (the madness of the Mad Hatter of Alice In Wonderland fame can be attributed to mercury). This book will make your inner nerd rejoice and your outer nerd smile. From Back Bay Books and available from your local, independent bookstore. (Want to make a difference? Shop your local, independent book retailer!)

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