After I finished reading Bo Bolander’s terrifying, terrific, and heartbreaking novella, The Only Harmless Great Thing (seriously, go read it, now), I collected myself, wrung a tear-soaked beach towel into my bathtub, took a lozenge to sooth a throat that was raw with grief, and took to Twitter to rave about it. That led me to finding out about the Radium Girls, which, well… holy shit. That led to the always awesome Wendy Wagner recommending that I check out Sam Kean’s science book, The Disappearing Spoon, which covers the tragedy of the Radium Girls, among many other things.
So, I did!
I don’t read a lot of science books. Or non-fiction these matters. It’s mostly a matter of not having a lot of room to slot in “fun” books between review obligations. But, I digress. I’m very happy Wendy twisted my arm. The Disappearing Spoon is a great entry-level introduction to chemistry, specifically the Table of Elements and the behaviour of atoms. My knowledge of chemistry and quantum physics caps out at “didn’t pay attention in high school science,” but even so I’m finding the book approachable and gentle in the way it introduces readers to its ideas. Kean has an engaging, easy-to-read prose, and he wraps all the science lesson-type stuff around great human-interest stories. (Seriously, it’s amazing how many scientists know for one achievement are also responsible for many other’s that have improved our daily life.) My only complaint: the book needs more diagrams? Kean talks us through the atomic structure of elements, and does a good job describing the behaviour of protons, neutrons, electrons, et al., but it would be even easier to wrap my head around the whole thing if there were a few illustrations and diagrams.
In any case, I’m creeping up to the creation of the hydrogen bomb now, so I’m sure the book is about to take a candy-coated turn toward peace, love, and harmony. Right?