Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon
Posted on August 25th, 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book takes a monumental topic — the periodic table — and breaks it down into various digestible topic areas. While I enjoyed it (and learned a lot of history of science trivia I’d been unaware of, what with my head stuck in the 18th century) and had a few “a-ha” moments as some organic chemistry concepts finally made sense (14 years after my last ochem class), I have two big problems with the book.
-1 star because the book needed editing. Badly. Kean’s writing is usually OK and sometimes great, but also sometimes forced, folksy, and pedantic. I could go from enjoyment to annoyance to wanting to throw it across the room and/or get out my red pen.
-1 star because there is no comprehensive bibliography, which is a cardinal sin in a book about science, just a short list of books. I have no doubt he did a lot of research, but there should be some accountability. Instead, in endnotes, there are more stories (that require flipping to the back of the book to read, and which were usually only tangential and not particularly interesting footnotes to the main story, meaning the flow was disrupted for no good reason).
In any case: interesting topic, good stories, only OK execution, and little authorial accountability. I really can’t see myself reading anything Kean writes in the future unless he cites his sources and drops the folksy facade.