Posted by: billpurdue | October 20, 2011

The Bill Bryson of science history?

When I saw the words “has Bill Bryson’s comic touch” on the front of a dust jacket, I immediately thought that The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean [Doubleday £20 9780857520265] might be a good read. I wasn’t far wrong. A former New York Times bestseller, this book delves into the history behind the discovery of the elements in the periodic table and the part played by many of these elements in our history.

Perhaps mention of the periodic table of elements might put some readers off. True, this book is quite scientific and I didn’t do very well in my chemistry and physics exams (and that’s a long time ago), but my interest in scientific matters has survived and I enjoyed the book. Having said that I did find certain sections a little tough going, what with protons, neutrons,  atoms and such like, but this little difficulty was outweighed by the tales of discovery and the people behind the discoveries and the “spin off “ stories along the way.

For example I didn’t know that Euro bank notes are the most difficult to counterfeit in the world. This is because the ink used to print the notes contains the element europium which only shows up under a special laser. Then there was the case of the young man David Hahn from Detroit, who attempted to build a nuclear reactor in the garden potting shed. … and did you know that titanium is used for implanted teeth, screw on fingers and replacement hip sockets? This is because it does not trigger an immune response from the body’s blood cells. The human body can’t detect a difference between titanium and actual bone.

These and many more facts and anecdotes connected with the elements of the periodic table make it a good read, but there is a down side. There are plenty of Americanisms, a few of which I wasn’t sure of their meaning. And on the subject of Bill Bryson’s “comic touch”, I would tend to disagree. The humour is there, but in some ways it’s less subtle and less refined. So Mr Kean is not another Bill Bryson, but he does a pretty good job nevertheless.


River Cottage

I’m not usually a great fan of cookery programmes on the telly, but I did watch one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programmes on vegetable cookery the other night. I’m not a vegetarian, though I don’t eat a lot of meat, but this isn’t necessarily a programme for vegetarians. Nor is the book: it’s intended to persuade the reader to eat a little less meat and fish and more vegetables. Read more about River Cottage Veg Every Day![ 9781408812129 Bloomsbury £25 – but look out for discounts] by clicking here.

Next time, my blog posting should coincide with the edition of the Chad for Oct 26th in which my monthly column is all about getting your book published. I’ve been asking some local authors and one local publisher for hints and tips for budding authors and what I couldn’t get into the column will be included in the blog.


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