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review 2019-01-20 22:23
The Disappearing Spoon
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

DNF @ page 81.

 

Dear fellow Flatbookers,

 

I am so sorry.

I really thought I had turned a corner. 

I really thought I had found a book that could keep my interest and that would not lead me to yet another DNF of a pop science book. 

 

But here's the thing, after making it through Part 1 of Kean's books I have serious issues with The Disappearing Spoon:

 

1. Kean comes across as a condescending twit. This is a major turn off for me.

2. Kean can't write in a way that conveys a clear train of thought. Also not great for a book that tries to explain science to non-scientists.

3. Kean's ramblings from one topic to the next give me neither pleasure nor information, both of which are essential from a pop science book.

4. Kean's research is abysmal. Seriously, 81 pages and I am frustrated by the glaring lack of attention to historical fact (see below*) ... so have to imagine that his scientific facts are not trustworthy either.

5. I simply cannot bear to read Kean's dismissive comments about the achievements or discoveries of scientist in the past, while Kean himself has nothing to show for it, nor does he make any attempts to show up any other personalities who may have been more worthy of praise and recognition. 

 

So, in the words of a great classic character (fabulously portrayed by Greg Wise) ... I will not torment myself. 

 

I'm out. 

 

Sorry. Again. 

 

I just can't.

 

Love,

BT

 

 

Seriously, tho, I was really irked by the portrayal of Bunsen's character, by the dismissal of Mendeleev as a fluke, by the portrayal of J. F. Boettger's biography (which is riddled with "inaccuracies" ... like describing him as a trickster in the same line as a slide of hand magician... He was an apothecary's apprentice. And the king - there were two kings actually but that is a longer story - really didn't force him to make porcelain in the first instance, he wanted gold. Porcelain just happened to be worked on at the same time...with more success.) - And I don't even have a clue why the section about Boettger was included in the first place. It served no purpose.

 

I was sorely miffed by the time I got the end of Part 1. 

 

Then I skipped ahead a bit as I by chance came across a page where he mentions Alvarez and the iridium layer that lead to the KT impact theory. It really was then when I came across the things that broke the camel's back: Kean dismisses Alvarez' findings without much of an explanation why and glosses over supporting evidence, then he cites the Indian volcanoes (which were a coinciding factor as discussed in Alvarez' book), and then completely wanders off: first to a still disputed Nemesis theory and then to Sagan quoting "We are all star stuff." 

There is no logical argument to follow here nor is there any underlying evidence for what Kean presents.

Tho, to be fair he didn't actually make any point, so his ramblings don't exactly *need* backing up with facts.

 

Seriously, this book can go ... add itself to the charity pile right away.

 

Previous Reading Updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 400 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 33 out of 400 pages.

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text 2019-01-20 20:59
Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 400 pages.
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

"He was lucky, really, that a good scientist like Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered eka-aluminium first. If someone had poked around for one of his mistakes – Mendeleev predicted there were many elements before hydrogen and swore the sun’s halo contained a unique element called coronium – the Russian might have died in obscurity. But just as people forgave ancient astrologers who spun false, even contradictory, horoscopes and fixated instead on the one brilliant comet they predicted exactly, people tend to remember only Mendeleev’s triumphs. Moreover, when simplifying history it’s tempting to give Mendeleev, as well as Meyer and others, too much credit. They did the important work in building the trellis on which to nail the elements; but by 1869, only two-thirds of all elements had been discovered, and for years some of them sat in the wrong columns and rows on even the best tables."

Too much credit? Too much credit for being able to imagine beyond what was known at the time and what could have been known at the time?

 

And where exactly lies Kean's contribution to explaining how the world around us works? It certainly is not by way of his erratic explanations in this book.

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text 2019-01-20 20:12
Reading progress update: I've read 33 out of 400 pages.
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

Yeah, I'm late to the party but I have just made it through the first chapter.

 

"Made it through" will give you an indication of my impression so far.

 

I've recognised some of the information about the "geography" of the periodic table and the reasons for how elements are put in order, but I found the bits that I didn't recognise rather incomprehensible...or rather explained badly and leaving me with no idea where Kean was going with this, and certainly not interesting enough to skip back and try to make sense of it.

 

Also, I hope the examples and stories will expand from a US focus later on in the book.

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text 2019-01-06 19:37
Reading progress update: I've read 459 out of 593 pages.
The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee

I think the author has redeemed himself. There is a better general discussion that addresses the parts I was missing earlier in the book. 

 

However, I'll need to see how this ends. 

 

 

**edit** Yes, yes he has turned this around. 

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text 2019-01-06 16:18
Reading progress update: I've read 359 out of 593 pages.
The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee

And it was going so well, until I got to this...

In the early 1980s, a young geneticist in London named Peter Goodfellow began to hunt for the sex-determining gene on the Y chromosome. A die-hard soccer enthusiast—scruffy, bone-thin, taut, with an unmistakable East Anglian drawl and a “punk meets new romantic” dress sense—Goodfellow intended to use the gene-mapping methods pioneered by Botstein and Davis to narrow the search to a small region of the Y chromosome.

Seriously, people, what is it with the stupid descriptions of other people in pop science books?

 

Did all of the authors take advice from Bridget Jones on how to introduce people with random and slightly uncomfortable tid bits?

 

Luckily, the rest of the book is still great enough to mostly make up for this kind of nonsense.

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