Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New books

I've added a couple of new books to my list of recent good reads on the panel on the right.  I suppose I should really knock some of the older ones off, as it's really some time since I read them.  However, they're too good to dismiss, so I'm considering changing the title of that little section to suit what I want to leave there.

Brian Switek's Written in Stone is a great book about fossils, evolution and where we fit in.  It's exactly the sort of book you'd expect me to enjoy and I have no hesitation recommending it.  I can't remember how I came to read it, whether it was one that Jenny picked up or whether it came as part of the small library that she had to read in preparation for the Royal Society Winton Prize of which I've blogged before.

Sam Kean's Disappearing Spoon was definitely part of that batch of books, and in fact, was my favourite of all the books I read.  Personally, I'd have awarded the Winton Prize to this book, but I wasn't on the jury.  This is a collection of short tales about the elements that make up the Periodic Table.  There's one short piece about each element, and it's a lovely read.

The Disappearing Spoon of the title comes about like this.  Gallium is soft and easily moulded, with a very low melting point and looks like aluminium, so the trick was to make a realistic looking teaspoon and have your friend stir his tea with it.  The temperature of the tea would be enough to melt the teaspoon while the tea was being stirred.  The book doesn't say whether or not the victims of this prank ever drank the tea, but looking at the elements that surround it in the Periodic Table, I'd hazard a guess that you'd get away with it.  Cadmium is pretty close, and that's quite a nasty poison, but everything else within a spit is mostly harmless.  Of course, the tea would probably taste revolting and he'd discover molten gallium sloshing around the bottom if he got that far.

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