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Extended Audio Sample 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 Kean Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (9,493 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sam Kean Narrator: Sean Runnette Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 showcases everyone's favorite scientific organization tool in a way it's never been seen before.

Science writer Sam Kean crosses a discussion of chemistry with humorous forays into human history and seemingly useless trivia. Kean groups the elements into unconventional categories then sets out to explain each one. He tells about its discovery, details unusual properties and discloses the sometimes racy human interest stories related to each element.

The title Disappearing Spoon comes from a tale about gallium, which is a solid metal until you hold it in your hand. When even a slight bit of heat is applied, a gallium spoon would quickly become nothing more than a puddle of molten metal. Other elements are personified for easy understanding. Take carbon, for example. Kean calls carbon "promiscuous," and notes that the element will "latch onto virtually anything."

While most science geeks know how crazy "mad" scientists can be, The Disappearing Spoon tells not only about the dramas of these men and women, but also about history, finance, poison, mythology, war and the arts. While the book does cover all of the elements in the periodic table, it isn't always as well connected and organized as the table itself. Instead, it wanders off on tenuously connected tangents that relate back in some small way to the element at hand.

The Disappearing Spoon, released in 2010, was Kean's first book. It landed on the New York Times national bestseller list. Kean is primarily a science journalist, and has been published in Mental Floss, Slate, and Science. He's also made appearances on NPR's "Radiolab" and "All Things Considered."

The periodic table is one of man’s crowning scientific achievements. But it’s also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues’ wives when she’d invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country, and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

From the Big Bang to the end of time, it’s all in The Disappearing Spoon.

Download and start listening now!

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Quotes & Awards

  • “With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surface, Kean writes with wit, flair, and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “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.”

    Booklist

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by alp | 2/20/2014

    " Who ever thought chemistry would be so interesting? Loved all the back stories on the people and the science is done well too. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Kimber | 2/17/2014

    " this was a really interesting read...combination history, chemistry and physics. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Scott Nebeker | 2/17/2014

    " This book has re-kindled my interest in physics. It's a great read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Oh_no_not_now | 2/9/2014

    " I enjoyed it - but I did not enjoy it enough to finish it after I misplaced it for a week. "

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About the Author
Author Sam Kean

Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a kid, and now he’s a writer in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in the New York Times magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, and Science, and it has been featured on NPR’s Radiolab and All Things Considered. The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb were New York Times bestsellers.