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

Part I Orientation: Column by Column, Row by Row
1 Geography Is Destiny
2 Near Twins and Black Sheep: The Genealogy of Elements
3 The Galapagos of the Periodic Table
Part II Making Atoms, Breaking Atoms
4 Where Atoms Come From: "We Are All Star Stuff"
5 Elements in Times of War
6 Completing the Table... with a Bang
7 Extending the Table, Expanding the Cold War
Part III Periodic Confusion: The Emergence of Complexity
8 From Physics to Biology
9 Poisoner's Corridor: "Ouch-Ouch"
10 Take Two Elements, Call Me in the Morning
11 How Elements Deceive
Part IV The Elements of Human Character
12 Political Elements
13 Elements as Money
14 Artistic Elements
15 An Element of Madness
Part V Element Science Today and Tomorrow
16 Chemistry Way, Way Below Zero
17 Spheres of Splendor: The Science of Bubbles
18 Tools of Ridiculous Precision
19 Above (and Beyond) the Periodic Table
Acknowledgments and Thanks347(2)
Notes and Errata349(28)
The Periodic Table of the Elements392

In an engaging text centered around the periodic table, the explores intriguing tales about every element of the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, evil, love, the arts and the lives of the colorful scientists that discovered them.

Sam Kean is a writer in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science,and The New Scientist. He is currently working as a reporter at Science magazine and as a 2009 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.

Like big-game hunters, scientists who stalked an undiscovered element courted peril: Marie Curie and Enrico Fermi both died from exposure to dangerous elements in the course of their experiments. But besides them and Dmitri Mendeleev, the deviser of the periodic table, which looms over science classrooms everywhere, few discoverers of the elements occupy the consciousness of even avid science readers. Kean rectifies that in this amble from element 1, hydrogen, to element 112, copernicium. Attaching stories to a human-interest angle, Kean ensures that with his elaboration of the fixation a chemist, physicist, industrialist, or artist had for a particular element comes clarity about why the element behaves as it does. The soft sell about proton numbers and electron shells thus closes the deal for Kean's anecdotes about elements of war, elements of health, and elements of wealth, plus the title's practical joke of a spoon (made from gallium). Whether explaining why Silicon Valley is not Germanium Valley or reveling in naming-rights battles over a new element, Kean holds interest throughout his entertaining debut. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

In his debut, Science magazine reporter Kean uses the periodic table as a springboard for an idiosyncratic romp through the history of science.Ranking Dmitri Mendeleev's creation of the first version of the periodic table ("one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind") alongside achievements by Darwin and Einstein, the author extends the metaphor of a geographical map to explain how the location of each element reveals its role-hydrogen and chlorine in the formation of an acid, carbon as the building block of proteins, etc.-and how gaps in the table allowed for future discoveries of new elements. Kean presents the history of science beginning with Plato, who used the Greek word for element for the first time in the belief that elements are fundamental and unchanging. The author then looks at Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for her discovery that the radioactivity of uranium was nuclear rather than chemical. Kean suggests that nuclear science not only led to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb, but was instrumental in the development of computers. The women employed by the Manhattan Project, he writes, in "hand-crunching long tables of data...became known by the neologism 'computers.' " The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell, including that of Fritz Haber, the chemist who developed nitrogen fertilizer and saved millions from starvation, and applied his talents in World War I to creating poison gas, despite the protests of his wife, who committed suicide. "Between hydrogen at the top left and the man-made impossibilities lurking along the bottom," writes the author, "you can find bubbles, bombs, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, poison, crime, and love. Even some science." Nearly 150 years of wide-ranging science, in fact, and Kean makes it all interesting.Entertaining and enlightening. Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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