The title for Sam Kean's new book, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
, comes from a prank that scientists sometimes play: they make a spoon out of gallium (which melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit) and hand it to unsuspecting friends to stir their tea with.
The title sets the tone for this witty, anecdote-filled book about the role elements have played in science, art, war, commerce, medicine, literature, and other fields. An element I'd never heard of before, ruthenium, was the key to riches for Kenneth Parker, who used it to make fountain pen tips in 1944. A more well-known element, silver, plays a role in the fate of Stan Jones (I posted about him in 2002), Montana's Libertarian candidate for Senator in 2002. Jones drank a homebrew concoction of colloidal silver to prevent bacterial infection (he was afraid that conventional antibiotics wouldn't be available in the new millennium) and it stained his skin blue for good (the condition is called argyria and I wrote abut it in my book, The World's Worst, which you can buy for $0.01 on Amazon). Cadmium is both a hero and a villain: a hero for being a part of vibrant pigments (I love my cadmium red and cadmium yellow acrylic paints), and a villain for sickening a great many people in the 1940s who drank out of drinking glasses lined with cadmium.
The disappearing spoon is my favorite kind of science journalism: it reveals a hidden universe in the form of a thrilling tale.
Buy The Disappearing Spoon on Amazon
Lindy West is one of those web-writers who’s done consistently great work over the years, whether it’s talking about boobs or talking about trolls, and so I expected to like her memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, but I didn’t expect to find myself laughing aloud over and over, nor did I expect to end up crying — and having done both in great measure, now I can’t get that most excellent book out of my head.
Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths’ Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions is pitched as a combination of personal advice and business book grounded in the lessons of computer science, but it’s better than that: while much of the computer science they explain is useful in personal and management contexts, the book is also a beautifully accessible primer on algorithms and computer science themselves, and a kind of philosophical treatise on what the authors call “computational kindness” and “computational stoicism.”
AJ Hartley’s new YA series opens with Steeplejack, a
whodunnit whose unlikely and welcome hard-boiled detective is a young
woman who has to beat class and race discrimination as well as the bad
If you’ve got a coding career on your mind, few programming disciplines will take you farther than a commanding knowledge of the Python language, which is not to be mistaken for parseltongue. Its versatility and ease of use make it a go-to for any coding project…so master Python now with this all-inclusive all-level python programming course […]
The realm of web development is constantly evolving. New platforms, languages, and processes materialize all the time, so staying on top of all that innovation is a tall order.Whether you’re brushing up on new tricks, starting from scratch, or just looking to make your own website a little jazzier, Rob Percival’s new Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 (now […]
Folks used to rely on alarms to protect their home – and before that, the family dog. Now, anyone looking to guard their homes can choose from some high-tech options, including the Amaryllo iCamPRO FHD Home Security Camera (now just $219 in the Boing Boing Store).In fact, this 2015 CES “Best of Innovation” award-winner boasts so many features, it’s […]