The Disappearing Spoon

There are, broadly, two categories of science books; those that focus on one thing, with only enough digression to perhaps explain background or competing theories (I’m thinking of The Elegant Universe, for instance), and those that have a theme that try to tie together many disparate bits of scientific knowledge or history.

Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon is definitely in the latter camp. Though it certainly takes the periodic table as its jumping-off point, it’s really a broad overview of the formalization of chemistry and physics as their own, separate disciplines in the 19th and 20th centuries, seen through the lens of our relationship to the not-as-fundamental-as-we-think (or, for that matter, most of the scientists being discussed thought) components of our universe.

Some of the endnotes are pretty interesting—the scientist who nearly didn’t get his Nobel Prize because he nearly died from a Staph. Aurea infection that degraded into necrotizing fascitis, for instance. And, truthfully, it’s easily read in small bites, which fits with the time I have available to devote to reading right now.

If you’re into this sort of collection-of-anecdotes sort of book, go for it; it’s an excellent example of that sort of book.