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review 2019-01-16 04:56
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (abandoned after first chapter)
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

Finished the first chapter, and I take what I said back. Sam Kean isn't condescending; he's trying to imitate his earlier terrible teachers and mystify us.

 

I thought I understood the periodic table, but Kean's explanations were all over the place and diverged into so many tangents about Plato and various early chemists and atomic physicists that I'm not sure that he actually explained anything. He threw around some facts but that's about it.

 

The endnotes, such as they are, are useless since they don't appear to contain any actual references, just stuff that Kean decided he didn't want in the main text. And he throws around references to temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit, an entirely useless unit. If Kean isn't going to try to appeal to an international audience by including sensible units, I don't see why an international audience should bother to read him. I think I'm throwing in the towel. I don't see the point of this book.

 

Previous updates:

page 11 of 346 (update after introduction)

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review 2019-01-09 15:27
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean
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,Sean Runnette

Date Published: August 18, 2010

Format: Audiobook (Tantor Audio)

Source: RB Digital/RAF Lakenheath Library 

Date Read: January 3-5, 2019

BL's Flat Book Society book club pick for January 2019

 

Blurb:

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery and alchemy, from the big bang through to the end of time.

 

 

***********************************SPOILERS***************************************************

I listened to this book just before the amended date for the book club read because I had other bookish obligations this month and didn't want to miss reading this book. So if you are reading this book for the first time on the amended date, you might want to skip my review.

 

 

Review:

In full disclosure, this wasn't my pick for this month's book club choice (kind of had my heart set on reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert), but I am determined to read and participate fully in this book club in 2019. So here we go - wait, that title is quite a mouthful! Oh, it is about chemistry...okay, so the audiobook would be my best route. And it turned out it was, because if I read this book in print/ebook, I probably would've DNF'd by the third or fourth chapter. Major applause for the narrator in getting me through 12+ hours of chemistry!

 

So this book had its highlights, some lowlights, but mostly it was just okay. The chapters are sorted by breaking up the Periodic Table of Elements (PToE) into clusters of like elements, and then each chapter goes into discovery, history, and uses of each element in that cluster. There is one chapter early in the book that is more devoted to the reasons and history of word usuage/language development/common names of elements - this was the chapter that had me contemplating hitting the DNF button. Most of the history of the elements had to do with scientists' egos and the Nobel Prize awards; after awhile, these controversaries all blurred into one another. So many egos, fighting over the same award that was more political than scientific based. The highlights for me was the element's use in chemical warfare and radiological sections as well as Ghandi's hatred of salt and the Gold Rush in the US. 

 

The book may not be in my science wheelhouse, but now I do want to read Kean's The Violinist's Thumb because I like his writing.

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review 2018-11-11 05:34
That's a Wrap: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

A New History of a Lost World
by Steve Brusatte

 

 

The dinosaurs.  Sixty-six million years ago, the Earth’s most fearsome creatures vanished.  Today they remain one of our planet’s great mysteries.  Now The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs reveals their extraordinary, 200-million-year-long story as never before.

In this captivating narrative (enlivened with more than seventy original illustrations and photographs), Steve Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of the field—naming fifteen new species and leading groundbreaking scientific studies and fieldwork—masterfully tells the complete, surprising, and new history of the dinosaurs, drawing on cutting-edge science to dramatically bring to life their lost world and illuminate their enigmatic origins, spectacular flourishing, astonishing diversity, cataclysmic extinction, and startling living legacy.  Captivating and revelatory, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a book for the ages.

Brusatte traces the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers—themselves the beneficiaries of a mass extinction caused by volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Triassic period—into the dominant array of species every wide-eyed child memorizes today, T. rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, and more.  This gifted scientist and writer re-creates the dinosaurs’ peak during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, when thousands of species thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of modern birds, emerged.  The story continues to the end of the Cretaceous period, when a giant asteroid or comet struck the planet and nearly every dinosaur species (but not all) died out, in the most extraordinary extinction event in earth’s history, one full of lessons for today as we confront a “sixth extinction.”

Brusatte also recalls compelling stories from his globe-trotting expeditions during one of the most exciting eras in dinosaur research—which he calls “a new golden age of discovery”—and offers thrilling accounts of some of the remarkable findings he and his colleagues have made, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs; monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex; and paradigm-shifting feathered raptors from China.

An electrifying scientific history that unearths the dinosaurs’ epic saga, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will be a definitive and treasured account for decades to come.



This is one of those books that could have been cut down in size readily if we edited out a lot of the details of personal facts.  The author tended towards rambling when he starts talking about his own trips to different countries, his own achievements, and his discoveries.  He also gives more personal background information about a lot of his colleagues than I really cared to know about, and made general, sweeping declarations about how someone was "the single most important contributor to such and such" which made me feel kind of wary.

He also liked to remind the reader that he's a very, very outstanding paleontologist, and that he's worked with lots of great paleontologists, and that he, alone, has made several discoveries, none of which he actually gives names to.  Repeatedly.

There was a lot of repetition of information, bogged down with details as well.

There's a particular part of one of the chapters that kind of stood out to me, because he spends about five or six pages describing the shifting of lands that started breaking apart the super-continent of Pangaea.  He describes volcanic activity and lava flow, and how it was what had caused the first mass extinction pre-dinosaur domination.  This particular fact was talked about, repeatedly in those few pages.  Those first few paragraphs had already told me what I needed to know about the end of the Triassic period.  But he went on as if he thought he hadn't already given me enough information to understand the global significance of this event.  It got to a point where I forgot that there was another point to this particular chapter.

I'm tempted to count the many times he described Tyrannosaurus Rex's body shape and structure, specifically emphasizing the creature's puny, pathetic arms--I think there might have been at least six instances... within a couple pages.  I think I get it.  And I figure I already knew this information without it being harked upon.  And I feel like maybe we should think about T-Rex's feelings when you keep insulting his itty-bitty arms, because that's just rude.  It took him an entire chapter of emphasizing those tiny arms on this enormous apex predator before getting to the point: Why the tyrannosaur still had said small arms anyway?

The rest of the chapter wasn't actually bad, truth be told, if he'd have just stuck with the science.  Instead, he tried to be dramatic, opening the chapter with a tacky introduction, seen through the eyes of a triceratops, describing the T-Rex attack of several hadrosaurs.  It seemed highly unnecessary.  As did many of his other dramatic introductory scenes to a couple other chapters in the book.

Not all of this book is so terrible, however.  If it's one thing I could deduce while reading this book, it was that our author is, indeed, knowledgeable and passionate about his career and the study of dinosaurs.  There were a few fun new facts I, personally, learned about dinosaurs.  And if he was so inclined to go further into some evolutionary studies, I'd be interested.  He certainly touched on evolution several times.  And you even get a pretty good look at the timeline of the pre-dinosaur era, the rise of the dinosaurs, their evolution over millions of years, and then the final fall of their dominance on Earth.

I didn't need a dramatic telling of the "dinosaur outside his window" to know about the "birds are dinosaurs" tidbit.  It's one of the things they teach in a basic science course, y'know.  And his exclamation is a bit oversimplified anyway.  I did, however, appreciate that he then went into the journey that paleontologists went through to finally make and prove the connection between dinosaurs and birds, though.  But his declaration seemed a bit out of tone and unnecessary in light of the fact that, as I already said, this is something you learn in a basic science or biology course about evolution.

And, in a nutshell, evolution is so much more complicated than a simple declaration that "birds are dinosaurs."

This book could have actually been quite informational (and it was, in a way), and it could have been much more interesting to read.  But there was too much non-dinosaur story telling involved, which really just managed to make me impatient with the book.  It certainly could have used a good edit to cut out unnecessary information.

 




This book was read for the Flat Book Society as well as 24 Festive Tasks, for the New Year's Eve Book Task.

 

The Flat Book Society


And since we don't really have a graphic for the New Year's Eve door yet, I give you a brief reintroduction to Dino Baby!  Rawr!

I am the true apex predator!
I dominate all of your squee's!

 

 

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review 2018-11-08 00:48
Reading progress update: I've read 100% -- of yet another overhyped book.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte,Patrick Lawlor
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

He redeemed himself a bit with the nonfiction part of the T-Rex chapter, but man, that narrative tone and his "I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread and I'm best buddies with all the cool kids in paleontology (even the long-dead ones)" attitude seriously grated pretty much from page 1 to literally the last words of the book.

 

Also, pro writing tip, Mr., um, Dr. Brusatte: If you seriously think it's a good idea to begin a chapter with a dramatic, pseudo-fictionalized scene involving T-Rex and a bunch of other dinosaurs, and you're telling it from the POV of one of those other dinosaurs, you'll want to avoid describing T-Rex as "a monster bigger than a city bus".  Because I'm pretty sure a dinosaur would have had no idea what a city bus was going to be looking like some 66+ million earth years after the extinction of its own species.  It's all about narrative perspective, you see ...

 

Oh, well.  Next!

 

Read for the Flat Book Society and the New Year's Eve square of the 24 Tasks of the Festive Season.

 

 

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review 2018-09-28 05:20
Some Rambling Thoughts: Get Well Soon
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

by Jennifer Wright

 

 

 

A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop.  She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her.  Then more.  In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague.  In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from.  Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering.  With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.



One of my fellow reader/reviewers over at Booklikes had stated that this book read like a compilation of blog entries, written by "an overconfident twenty-something with an only superficial grasp of history and medicine and science."  I seconded that statement, because the writing style in this book is extremely informal, with a lot of opinionated side-quips, and tons of speculation masquerading as scientific fact or historical data.  I'm not saying that this book doesn't have anything to offer, but to be honest, it doesn't offer what it seems to have been marketed to offer: a look at history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them.  Instead, I feel like the title should have been changed to something along the lines of "Some Sensational Stories About Plagues, Medical Horrors, and History that Interested This Author."

The book is very Anglo-centric, focusing mostly on how these plagues affected America or the European nations.  But a cursory search of, say, leprosy, shows that this is a disease that impacted, and still impacts, hundreds of countries never mentioned in this book.  Wright's focus, however, was the leper colony of Moloka'i and the story of Father Damien.  While I didn't mind reading about the wonder who was Father Damien, this chapter on Leprosy left a lot to be desired.

Much like a lot of her other chapters, Wright doesn't dwell very long on the science of each plague, and instead spends a good amount of time on tangents and speculative asides.  In fact, she doesn't spend a whole lot of them with the plagues themselves, because a lot of her side tangents, some of which have nothing to do with the plague (re: Comoddus's incestuous lusts circa 'The Antonine Plague') take up more pages than were necessary.

After the first couple chapters in this book, I realized that I'd have to change my mindset before continuing on.  The writing style wasn't what I'd been expecting, and even up to the end, still wasn't a writing style that worked for me.  There were too many of those opinionated side-quips, too many random and ill-used pop culture references, and a lot of times, Jennifer Wright will insert her own imagining of how she would recreate certain parts of history if left to her devices.

 

I'm always trying to rewrite the scripts for history, the way some people must mentally rewrite the scripts for disappointing episodes of their favorite television shows.


First of all, yes I can relate to mentally rewriting scripts for disappointing episodes of a favorite television show; and at least Wright is aware of her own habits.  Of course, I also don't try to sell my rewritten scripts as fact in a popular science book, currently worth $12.99 via Kindle.

As I think I might have mentioned in another update, this book tries too hard to be informal and personal by adding random pop culture references, and short humorous (?) commentary, possibly in an attempt to lighten the mood of the context.  After all, this is a book about devastation and tragedy, with millions of deaths and a lot of suffering communities and nations over history.  I'm never opposed to dark humor, but you have to do it right.  At some points, Wright DID manage to make my lips quirk, but other times, I just didn't quite understand her humor.  The timing always felt off, or the insertions felt awkward.  Whatever it was, it didn't work for me.  And a lot of times, I didn't understand the connection--I grew up in America, but I've never been big on the pop culture trivia.

She also inserted exclamations almost everywhere!  Even when said exclamation probably wasn't warranted!  A lot of her opinions were exclamations!  A lot of her speculations and asides were exclamations!

But they failed to really do the job of being exciting or surprising in their exclamation point usage.

If it is one thing I will say in favor of this book, it's that Jennifer Wright truly DOES seem passionate about the subject and each plague's impact on human life and society.  Her stance on vaccinations, hygiene, sanitation, general health... all good points to emphasize.  Her stance on behaviors towards humankind and the diseases that afflict us is sincere--the message not to treat people badly just because of the disease is a good one.  Being kind, supportive, and understanding is a message I think needs to be put out there more often.  We don't become afflicted with something deadly as a punishment from some higher judgment--diseases don't pick and choose who they affect, and pathogens aren't discriminatory.

As a popular science book, she could have focused more on the science and medicine of these plagues she is show-casing.  But show-casing is really what she is doing in this book, choosing specific stories that seem to interest her about each plague rather than giving more details about the specific plague itself.  Truly, the only chapter I felt had the most sincere presentation was the 'Smallpox' chapter, but unfortunately, she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.

But the rest seemed to hinge greatly on some sensational aspect of each disease: Syphilis and the rotting noses, Tuberculosis and how people glamorized it, for examples.

Then there were the chapters on 'Dancing Plague' and 'Lobotomies,' which, in honest truth, I don't see as counting as true plagues.  Lobotomies as a medical horror I can see, but this is a book about plagues, so if she truly wanted to write a book about medical horrors that included a chapter on lobotomies, she should serious reconsider the title to her book.

I can see this book interesting a lot of people, if only because it DOES present a lot of tidbit information that many might find intriguing.  In some instances, you DO find yourself wanting to learn more, from a much more detailed, well-informed source.  In some chapters, she DOES manage to tell me things I didn't already know, although I would confirm her facts from my own research if inclined to do so.  For the most part, this book is, at best, an overview, which I feel would have been better off in a blog format, where expectations might be a bit lower than as a book you had to pay for.

 

 



 

Flat Book Society - September 2018 Read

 ~*~*~*~

 

Halloween Bingo 2018
(anything related to the end of the world, doomsday cults, or a post-apocalypse world)

 

**This book was approved by our Halloween Bingo hosts for the Doomsday square, and by default, the Creepy Raven Free Space.**

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/09/some-rambling-thoughts-get-well-soon.html
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