Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: The Disappearing Spoon

Looking at the periodic table, you could imagine that each cluster of elements would have some sort of story behind them. And you could imagine in the hands of the right story teller, those tales would be riveting.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Keans takes this hypothesis and kicks it into overdrive. Keans not only takes you on a tour of the elements by way of various tales, he manages to weave them together so the whole book flows.

The range of topics is staggering. For every subject you'd expect to find in this type of book (the discovery of DNA, the advent of transistors) there's even more that are surprising (the impact of Gandhi's involvement with salt; the commoditization of aluminum). Whether you count yourself interested in science or not, I have to think that the storytelling is so on point that you'll find yourself enjoying the book.

The various stories seems to be the right length: detailed enough to let you appreciate the element being discussed, but not so detailed that you'll lose interest. Of course, all these narratives add up and the audio version of the book felt long. But again, thanks to the quality of the writing, this is mere fact, not complaint.

Overall, this was a terrific read (well, technically listen) and one I keep finding myself recommending to others.

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