- Craig Graziano
Chemistry appears to be the coldest, most sterile field of science, breaking down all the values that we as humans hold most dear. When we look close enough, these basic drives of ours, love, money, entertainment, courage, are just the combinations of different elements. Thanks chemistry, for sucking the fun out of the party.
But Sam Kean’s new book, The Disappearing Spoon, manages to take the history of the periodic table of elements, that impenetrable fortress from your high school chemistry class, and relate some of the most amazing, unbelievable, hilarious stories that have ever existed.
Almost episodic in nature, the crux of each story is often how a particular element was discovered, and then how humankind has chosen to put it to use. Sometimes it is for public welfare (copper is used on doorknobs and stair railings because most bacteria that land on it die with in a matter of hours), other times for warfare (high demand for the metals used to construct cell phones have contributed to five million deaths in war-torn central Africa since the mid-90’s).
The title comes from a case in which the absolute nerdiest of pranksters found that the metal gallium has a melting point of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. They would fashion teaspoons out of the element, and then snicker with glee as their guests found their spoons dissolving mid-stir.
Without human involvement, the elements might still come off as pretty dull to some of us. What we essentially find through these stories is chemistry is full of fascinating people and situations, holding enough drama to make the most intellectual soap opera the world may ever see. Chemistry has secret affairs, backstabbing, deep psychotic episodes, massive explosions, and people with blue skin (not as pretty as Avatar).
So if you are desperately looking for a chemical fix while waiting for that next season of Breaking Bad to premiere, look no further than The Disappearing Spoon.