The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

Was Charles Darwin a Murderer?

Two men committed murder—and blamed the English naturalist. The aftermath solidified Darwin as the greatest scientist of his age.


The Disappearing Spoon is Distillations’ sister podcast, hosted by best-selling author Sam Kean. The show examines overlooked stories from our past, such as the dental superiority of hunter-gatherers, the sex lives of dinosaurs, and many more moments that never made the history books. When the footnote becomes the real story, small moments become surprisingly powerful.

Early Science & Alchemy

How To Be Smarter Than Isaac Newton

Discover why the iconic physicist made an unbelievable error while hunting down criminals, and how you can avoid the same dumb mistake.

Color abstract landscape painting
Arts & Culture

Claude Monet and Bee Purple

How cataracts nearly ruined the impressionist painter’s career—and then revived it by giving him an insect-like superpower.

People & Politics

The Unsung Heroes of Darwin’s Evolution

Learn how an obsession with crustaceans guided the naturalist toward his most consequential insights.

Health & Medicine

Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code

An interview with Sam Kean about his book ‘The Violinist’s Thumb.’

Arts & Culture

The Sinister Angel Singers of Rome

How a simple operation—castrating little boys—produced the greatest singers the world has ever known.

Health & Medicine

The Murderous Origins of the American Medical Association

How a bloody gun duel between two doctors in Transylvania sparked a frenzy of outrage—and helped create the American Medical Association.

Inventions & Discoveries

The Big ‘What If’ of Cancer

How a feisty, suicidal Nobel laureate infuriated both Hitler and Stalin, and stalled cancer research for 50 years along the way.

Health & Medicine

The Harvard Medical School Janitor Who Solved a Murder

In a building full of dead bodies, how can you tell a murder victim from an unlucky stiff?

Inventions & Discoveries

Burn After Watching

The world’s first plastic made Hollywood possible—and killed thousands of people along the way.


History’s First Car Crash Victim

How a steam-powered automobile in 1869 snuffed out the life of the brilliant naturalist and astronomer Mary Ward.

Health & Medicine

Real-Life Zombies

What a bizarre psychological disorder can teach us about memory, human nature, and our sense of who we are.


How Climate Change Will Remake the Human Body

Scientists know how other animals’ bodies will change in warmer climates, but how will human beings respond?

Health & Medicine

The ‘Mary Poppins’ Cancer

The life of chimney sweeps was nasty, poor, brutish, filthy dirty, and usually short, thanks to a rare cancer of the genitals.

Arts & Culture

Kangaroo (and Pig and Monkey and Dog and Donkey) Courts

The long, wacky, and surprisingly thought-provoking history of trying animals in human courts.

Health & Medicine

The Anatomy Riots

How early anatomists provoked some of the strangest riots in history by stealing the dead bodies of the poor.

Arts & Culture

When a Hole in the Head Is a Good Thing

How a rogue archaeologist in Peru found indisputable evidence of something previously unthinkable—ancient neurosurgery.

Health & Medicine

When Mosquitoes Cured Insanity

How an early 20th-century doctor pitted one scourge (malaria) against another (syphilis).


The Death of the Lord God Bird

How greed—and a group of Nazi prisoners—killed off one of the most iconic birds in American history: the ivory-billed woodpecker.