The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

A "treasure trove of all our passions and obsessions," the periodic table of the elements is more than a turreted catalogue of the different kinds of matter in the universe. "The periodic table is... an anthropologic marvel, a human artifact that reflects all of the wonderful and artful and ugly aspects of human beings and how we interact with the physical world." In this young readers edition of his bestselling The Disappearing Spoon, science writer Sam Kean (Caesar's Last Breath) presents the wide-ranging history, conflict, rumors and science behind each element, from discovery to present-day use.

Kean tells of bitter custody battles over element discoveries; fierce competition among nations and individual scientists to claim naming rights; and sometimes humorous, often insanely dangerous exploits in the name of science or power. During the 1990s, a 16-year-old Boy Scout decided to try to solve the world's energy crisis by building a nuclear reactor in his backyard shed. In the sixth century BC, a Babylonian king had his palace walls painted yellow with an antimony-lead paint mixture and went mad--antimony (element 51) is highly toxic. And, yes, it is possible to make a spoon disappear in your cup of tea, as long as that spoon is made of the easily meltable element 31, gallium.

The Disappearing Spoon reveals how gloriously and dangerously intertwined everything truly is, and not just chemically speaking. Kean wraps his exploration of elements in history, politics, mythology, warmongering, philosophy and more: "I realized that there's a funny, or odd, or chilling tale attached to every element on the periodic table. At the same time, the table is one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind. It's both a scientific accomplishment and a storybook...." This "storybook" will encourage young readers to brave the elements of science. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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