Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Could author Sam Kean get any nurdier looking? And this photo was probably the result of a couple of hours with a stylist. However, check out his laryngeal prominence (Adams Apple). You know what they say about prominent laryngeals! But I digress.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, is about science from the perspective of (you guessed it) the periodic table of the elements, and as one reviewer put it, “its relation to medicine, money, poisons, explosive weaponry, temperature, tools of measurement, gold rushes, human insanity, misguided science, artistic output, and the politics of the Nobel prize.” I would just call it a pretty good science soap opera, lots of drama and gossip.

Honestly, I found it difficult to stay focused on the book until Kean pulled out zingers. Like the fact that coins, handrails and water pipes are primarily stainless steel, copper, silver and nickel, because those metals are self-sterilizing; and the fact that the term “computer” was coined when the wives of Manhattan Project scientists were put to work doing zillions of calculations. Oh, and did you know that Marie Curie was almost denied her Pulitzer because she was having an affair with a married man? Then there was the famous poet who went on Lithium to regulate his Bi-Polar Disorder and then couldn’t write jack. OK, I admit it. My zinger threshold for science is pretty low.

If you have an absurd affection for science and "People" magazine, you’d probably like The Disappearing Spoon.

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