First, a confession. I attended four different middle schools and three different high schools. I managed to take Earth Science, Environmental Science, and then Biology five times over before pursuing a liberal arts degree. I never learned much of anything about chemistry in school, so that bar may be artificially low.
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean is a wandering, at times rambling, collection of stories that winds along with the Periodic Table of Elements. Like a good liberal arts science class, the book does not get too in depth with hard science, and instead focuses on the history of the discoveries, the people in involved, how new findings impacted the world both politically and economically.
I had no problem with Kean’s style, but I know others have complained that the work was too hard to follow. The technical, science aspects were never over my head, so I think the complaints likely come from how the book is structured. If you head in looking for a basic primer on the elements that follows the Period Table exactly, you are likely going to be frustrated. If you’re looking for the perfect compendium of somewhat gossipy science anecdotes and facts to beef up your trivia team’s weakest subject – you’ve found the perfect book.
Did you know that modern archaeologists are able to track Lewis and Clark’s trek across the frontier by looking for unusually high mercury deposits in former latrine sites?
Do you know why aluminum was chosen for the Washington Monument cap?
Did you know there was once a naturally occurring nuclear reactor in what is modern day Gabon?
These pop science facts and more are littered throughout The Disappearing Spoon. It’s a great read to inspire further research, and the closest thing I can imagine to a summer beach read for the science genre.