The Disappearing Spoon

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

New York Times Bestseller

  • Language:
  • English (United States/Canada)
    Little, Brown
  • English (UK/ANZ)
  • Arab Scientific
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Chinese (Simplified)
    United Sky (Beijing) New Media Co., Ltd
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Czech
  • Estonian
  • French
    Laurent Laffont
  • German
    Hoffman and Campe
  • Greek
    Editions Katoptro
  • Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Japanese
    Hayakawa Shobo
  • Korean
  • Norwegian
  • Polish
    Jk Wydawnictwo Jacek Kaszyk
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Serbian
  • Spanish
    Editorial Ariel
  • Turkish
  • Ukrainian
  • Vietnamese
    Alpha Books
About The Disappearing Spoon:

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:

BestsellerThe New York Times

BestsellerThe Boston Globe

BestsellerPublishers Weekly

A Best Book of the Year Selection –

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

Critical Praise:

[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

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:
  • English (U.S. Hardcover)

  • English (UK Paperback)

  • Chinese (Simplified)

  • Chinese (Traditional)

  • Czech

  • Estonian

  • French

  • French

  • German

  • Hebrew

  • Italian

  • Italian (E-Book)

  • Korean

  • Norwegian

  • Polish

  • Portuguese (Brazil)

  • Russian

  • Serbian

  • Spanish

  • Turkish

  • Ukranian

  • Vietnamese

Other Books by Sam Kean:
  • Caesar’s Last Breath

  • The Bastard Brigade

  • The Disappearing Spoon – Young Readers Edition

  • The Icepick Surgeon

  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

  • The Violinist’s Thumb