I am at heart a non-fiction reader. Sure I do find a lot of my leisure reading pleasure in fiction, but I really am happiest when I find myself with a entertaining narrative non-fiction title. Perhaps the best I had read in recent years is The Empire of the Stars by Arthur I. Miller- a fantastic scientific history book about cosmology and the Big Bang, a story absolutely overflowing with intrigue and eccentric characters. (pls see previous blog post)
I have had similar reading enjoyment with Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon: and other true tales of madness, love and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements. (also available as an ebook).
Kean traces the history of the development of the periodic table, infusing the science with the very human side of these important discoveries. For example, readers will learn about the vital dedication of Dmitri Mendeleev’s mother, the clashes of stubborn super sized egos (both personal and national), incredibly flukey discoveries and career ending egregious errors.
Along the way Kean also imparts a lot of interesting science, which he is able to present in a very accessible way to lay readers. Having a basic background in chemistry and physics will help but it is not essential. It is really the human side of the story that is the most compelling. These scientists were incredibly gifted, dedicated and ambitious, stopping at little to achieve academic glory. They also lived in very interesting times, times when wars and politics had huge impacts on the lives of the scientists and the directions and applications of their research.
All in all, a great reading experience for fans of biography, history and science.