English (U.S. Hardcover)

The Disappearing Spoon

And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Sam Kean

10 Weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List

Language / Publisher:
English (United States/Canada)
Little, Brown
English (UK/ANZ)
Chinese (Simplified)
Chinese (Traditional)
Jieli Press
Laurent Laffont
Hoffman and Campe
Hayakawa Shobo
Jk Wydawnictwo Jacek Kaszyk
Portuguese (Brazil)
Editorial Ariel
Fri Tanke


From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table.

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery–from the Big Bang through the end of time.

*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.

Awards, Nominations, and Distinctions:

Bestseller – The New York Times

Bestseller – The Boston Globe

Bestseller – Publishers Weekly

A Best Book of the Year Selection – Amazon.com

Finalist – Royal Society of London’s Book of the Year

Critical Praise:

Kean's writing sparks like small shocks...he gives science a whiz-bang verve so that every page becomes one you cannot wait to turn just to see what he's going reveal next.
Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe

[Kean turns] The Disappearing Spoon into a nonstop parade of lively science stories...ebullient.
Janet Maslin, New York Times

The Disappearing Spoon shines a welcome light on the beauty of the periodic table. Follow plain speaking and humorous Sam Ken into its intricate geography and stray into astronomy, biology, and history, learn of neon rain and gas warfare, meet both ruthless and selfless scientists, and before it is over fall head over heals for the anything but arcane subject of chemistry.
Bill Streever, New York Times bestselling author of COLD

If you stared a little helplessly at the chart of the periodic table on the wall of your high school chemistry class, then this is the book for you. It elucidates both the meanings and the pleasures of those numbers and letters, and does so with style and dash.
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

It happens often in biology, but only once in a rare while does an author come along with the craft and the vision to capture the fun and fascination of chemistry. Sam Kean's The DISAPPEARING SPOON is a pleasure and full of insights. If only I had read it before taking chemistry.
Mark Kurlansky, New York Times bestselling author of Salt: A World History, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris

Whether explaining why Silicon Valley is not Germanium Valley or reveling in naming-rights battles over a new element, Kean holds interest throughout his entertaining debut.

Along with Dmitri Mendeleyev, the father of the periodic table, Kean is in his element as he presents a parade of entertaining anecdotes about scientists (mad and otherwise) while covering such topics as thallium (Tl, 81) poisoning, the invention of the silicon (Si, 14) transistor, and how the ruthenium (Ru, 44) fountain pen point made million for the Parker company. With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surface, Kean writes with wit, flair, and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers.
Publishers Weekly

Sam Kean...has done something remarkable: He's made some highly technical science accessible, placed well-known and lesser-known discoveries in the contest of history and made reading about the lives of the men and women inside the lab coats enjoyable.
Austin American-Statesman

Fascinating. Kean has Bill Bryson's comic touch when it comes to describing genius-lunatic scientists...The book is not so much a primer in chemistry as a lively history of the elements and the characters behind their discovery.
New Scientist

"An idiosyncratic romp through the history of science. The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell....entertaining and enlightening.
Kirkus Reviews

This is nonfiction to make you sound smart over gin and tonics: the human history behind the periodic table.

Kean...unpacks the periodic table's bag of tricks with such aplomb and fascination that material normally as heavy as lead transmutes into gold. A-
Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly

Kean's palpable enthusiasm and the thrill of knowledge and invention the book imparts can infect even the most right-brained reader.
Christine Thomas, Miami Herald

About the Author(s):

Sam Kean is a writer based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The New York Times MagazineMental FlossSlateThe BelieverAir & SpaceScience, and The New Scientist.

Other Editions of This Book:

English (UK Paperback)

Chinese (Simplified)

Chinese (Traditional)







Italian (E-Book)



Portuguese (Brazil)




Other Books by Sam Kean:

The Disappearing Spoon

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

Caesar's Last Breath

The Violinist’s Thumb