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About the book
  • Published: 1 September 2011
  • ISBN: 9780552777506
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $22.99

The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table

The New York Times bestselling debut of popular science's answer to Malcolm Gladwell

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery and alchemy, from the big bang through to the end of time.

  • Pub date: 1 September 2011
  • ISBN: 9780552777506
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Author

Sam Kean

Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a child and now he is a writer in Washington DC. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, Air & Space/Smithsonian and New Scientist. In 2009 he was a runner-up for the National Association of Science Writers' Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award for best science writer under the age of thirty. He currently writes for Science. His first book, The Disappearing Spoon, was a New York Times bestseller and was shortlisted for the Royal Society's Winton Prize for science writing.

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Praise for The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table

“One of the most readable and entertaining books about science yet published ... [Kean] is master of enlightening metaphors”

Daily Express

“The periodic table meets the best-seller list with Sam Kean's Disappearing Spoon, an engaging tour of the elements ... with the éclat of raw sodium dropped in a beaker of water.”

New York Times

“the anecdotal flourishes of Oliver Sacks and the populist accessibility of Malcolm Gladwell”

Entertainment Weekly

“A superb read... This book stands comparison with Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, and indeed of the two I prefer it”

BBC Focus

“This book is entirely entertaining - it's a real page turner, and there's very little not to like about the combination of a string of QI like fascinating facts with a whole slew of engaging stories ... a delight to read, taking a very predictable subject and approaching it in an entertaining, original and informative way ... if you want to be entertained and find out lots of history and fascinating facts around the elements themselves, this is the one for you.”


“A science book you didn't have to get beaten up in high school to read”

Daily Beast

“Kean has Bill Bryson's comic touch ... a lively history of the elements and the characters behind their discovery”

New Scientist

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