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Galley Cat Reviews June 2010

Galley Cat Reviews June 2010

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Published by: galleycat on Jul 07, 2010
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09/14/2010

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Welcome to the June 2010 Print Edition of GalleyCat Reviews
GalleyCat Reviewsfeatures daily book review content, including book reviews,excerpted book reviews from select review outlets, and curated posts linking to the best book reviews on the web. The reviews are written by a mix of professional reviewers and passionate readers in the GalleyCat community.If you are a publicist looking to submit books to GalleyCat reviews, please email your  pitches tothis new email address. We are accepting pitches for new books in any genre, but we will only be able to review a fraction of the suggested titles.Want to read more? Check out these links: With this special monthly edition, you canread GCR, print GCR, or download GCR to your favorite reading device. If you wantmore print-able goodness, check out these other links:GalleyCat Reviews February 2010 Print Edition GalleyCat Reviews March 2010 Print Edition GalleyCat Reviews April 2010 Print Edition GalleyCat Reviews May 2010 Print Edition Best Book Reviewers on Twitter Directory 
 
Murder, Sex, and Adventure in the Periodic Table
Reviewed by
Michael Paul Mason
 Read more GalleyCat Reviews As a high school student, my eyes would glaze over every time mychemistry teacher walked over to the Periodic Table of Elements poster.Like my classmates, I had a basic sense of its structure and purpose, butloathed referencing it.The elements seemed so impersonal, utterly disenfranchised fromeveryday life. Just letters and numbers. How was I supposed to know thatthere were stories of murder and sex and adventure hiding behind each symbol? I was just taught to count electrons and construct compounds.Everyone who has ever sat through a similar chemistry class should write a "thank you"note to science writer 
Sam Kean
, whose book,
The Disappearing Spoon
, brings the periodic table to life.It's crammed full of compelling anecdotes about each of the elements, plenty of nerd-gossip involving the Nobel prizes, and enough political intrigue to capture the interest of the anti-elemental among us.With 118 elements currently listed in the periodic table, the task of chronicling their discoveries and applications is nothing short of herculean, but Kean not onlyaccomplishes the labor admirably, but structures it in such a way that makes the journeythrough the table a joy rather than a slog.Kean clusters the elements not just by their physics, but by their character. There's a"Poisoner's Corridor" chapter that follows a hapless geek into a radioactive misadventure,for example, and a great economics lesson offered through the rise of aluminium.Literature buffs might be surprised to learn of Goethe's own connections with the earlyhistory of the periodic table, from the chapter "Artistic Elements."Kean's great undertaking, however, comes with a slight compromise. The challenge of capturing all the elements in one book lends itself to being more episodic in nature, sothat there isn't a strong storyline that's followed throughout the course of the book.The end result is the kind of book you can easily pick up at any point, and enjoythroughout. Once you're done with the book, do your chemistry teacher and all her futurestudents a favor, and send her a copy.Collective, the tales of 
The Disappearing Spoon
, do, however, convey an uneasy sense of  just how many human lives have been lost over our ignorance of the elements. Sure, there
 
are plenty of "exploding lab" incidents throughout history, but there are also mass poisonings and other atrocities that could have been prevented with simple scientificunderstanding.While Kean leaves readers with a satisfying evolutionary sense of the periodic table andits future, we're left to daydream about the soup of chemical compounds we all wade ineveryday--a topic I can only hope Kean or another similarly-talentedwriter might soon tackle.
 Michael Paul Mason
is the author of '  Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury & Its Aftermath ,' published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. His work appears in magazines and newspapers, including Discover, The Believer, and NYT. Learn more at michaepaulmason.com
 

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