Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean | Science News

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Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Review by Rachel Ehrenberg

12:47pm, September 24, 2010

If aliens ever land on Earth, Kean writes, one of the few things humans could present that might actually be understood by the visitors is the periodic table of the elements. That observation is typical of this quirky, thoughtful and thorough book.

Remembered by many as a daunting chart looming over a teacher’s shoulder and typically “less than frickin’ helpful” on exams, the periodic table is actually a map, writes Kean, a science journalist. It is a map on which geography is destiny, a map of rivalries and antagonisms, a map that — accompanied by a guide like Kean — can take you through space and time.

From the Big Bang to ancient Greece to Nazi Germany and Gandhi’s India, Kean highlights the prominent roles of various chemical elements throughout history. He also reveals their

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