In 1980, Sam Kean, a well-known modern American author, was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Known for his science, nonfiction writings, one of his most famous works is The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Published in 2010, The Disappearing Spoon is a masterfully crafted novel that very interestingly presents elements through the development of stories.
Kean begins his attempt to bring chemistry alive in the very beginning of his book. He describes that, as a child, he broke mercury thermometers just to observe the element mercury, which led to his obsession with the periodic table. He effectively captures the reader’s attention from the start by presenting a story of his love for chemistry through the eyes of a child: “I felt pangs for children whose mothers so feared mercury they wouldn’t even let them eat tuna”1. Kean wins over the heart of the reader by using a humorous reference to mothers fearing tuna to enliven his ideas.
Kean continues to draw the reader in by developing his presentation of each element through various literary devices. He effectively develops The Disappearing Spoon in a way that leaves the reader with an unexpected pleasure as if they are reading a fantasy. The reader is affected this way because of Kean’s objective in writing. Just from analyzing the title, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, one can expect a wild ride throughout the progression of the book. The idea of the disappearing spoon can be described best by Sam Kean himself: “Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear”2. Throughout the rest of The Disappearing Spoon, Kean does not disappoint the reader in presenting the promised information in a marvelously thrilling way.
Kean’s ability to capture the reader is influenced by the layout of The Disappearing Spoon. After hooking the reader with a story from his childhood, Kean delves right into part one of The Disappearing Spoon, which addresses how an element’s properties determine its location on the periodic table. He continues to part two, which presents “making atoms” and “breaking atoms”1. Part three discusses misconceptions of the periodic table and prevalent confusions a student may have. Kean then introduces part four, which discusses how elements have influenced humanity in various ways. Finally, Kean develops part five by elaborating on modern elemental science and his prediction of its future.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements is a wild ride. Sam Kean begins his writing with a mission to fascinate the reader with a passion for chemistry, and he does just that. Kean takes a stance of presenting the material in the book in a way that can be understood by non-scientists. The average Joe can appreciate The Disappearing Spoon. Instead of potentially boring the reader with facts that may seem excessive or unnecessary, Kean’s chooses to use words, such as promiscuous, to intrigue the reader. This is the greatest strength of The Disappearing Spoon. The writing strategy Kean uses develops his writing in a special way because he resonates with such a different audience than the average author of science, nonfiction writings. However, The Disappearing Spoon is not perfect. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Keans presentation of his ideas in a fun, innovative way give his book a unique quality, but it also prevents him from giving the reader as much depth as he may want. Kean definitely reaches the non-scientist, or average Joe, but he may not resonate with the science professional, or Dr. Payne. After reading The Disappearing Spoon, the reader can learn a plethora of information about each element, but he may not learn complex concepts that one may expect when reading 350 pages of chemistry.
Ben’s Most Interesting Fact
Throughout reading The Disappearing Spoon, I came across multiple interesting facts. Facts that describe unusual characteristics of elements, these element’s properties, and their interactions with other elements were all presented thoroughly. One of the most interesting things I learned while reading The Disappearing Spoon described a super acid: “This super acid is 100,000 billion, billion, billion, billion times more potent than stomach acid and will eat through glass as ruthlessly as water as through paper”1. Mixing “antimony pentafluoride and hydrofluoric acid” produces this marvelous acid1. I am in awe of this acid for multiple reasons. First, this acid is described as being so much stronger than a normal acid that I can literally not comprehend its description. Second, the idea that this acid is so strong that it can eat through glass like water does through paper is insane. Kean’s presentation of this fact is mind-blowingly effective in inspiring the reader.