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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (2010) Sam Kean

This was a fun book.

Although I was initially a little unsure, once we got to the part where he explained the big bang and it completely made sense (at least in relation to what he was discussing) I was sold.

He discusses the periodic table, then men who developed it as a table, the elements that comprise it, and the men and women who searched for and found those elements.

Fascinating. Really! Primarily because he approaches the subject with humor and a light-hearted tone, making what might have been a dry subject for some in school (not me–I had a fabulous science teacher in high school) interesting and amusing.

Here are some excerpts I especially enjoyed.

Because Physics overlaps with weapons research, Stalin’s pet…physicists under Stalin escaped the worked abuses leveled at biologists, psychologists, and economists. “Leave [physicists] in peace,” Stalin graciously allowed. “We can always shoot them later.”

Think of the most fussy science teacher you ever had. The one who docked your grade if the sixth decimal place in your answer was rounded incorrectly; who tucked in his periodic table T-shirt, corrected every student who said “weight” when he or she meant “mass,” and made everyone, including himself, wear goggles even while mixing sugar water. Now try imagining someone whom your teacher would late for being anal-retentive. That is the kind of person who works for a bureau of standards and measurement.

As we know, 90 percent of particles in the universe are hydrogen, and the other 10 percent are helium. Everything else, including six million billion billion kilos of earth, is a cosmic rounding error.

[Quantium mechanics] prompted [Einstein] to object that “God does not play dice with the universe.” He was wrong, and it’s too bad that most people have never heard the rejoinder by Neils Bohr: “Einstein! Stop telling God what to do.”

Even if you don’t think you’d be fascinated by learning about aluminum (did you know the top of the Washington Monument is aluminum? Because it was the most precious metal around at the time?) and carbon and arsenic–you’re wrong. It’s all fascinating, and all well-worth reading.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Back Bay Books

Categories: History, Non-Fiction, Paper, Science & Nature


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