A look at chemistry through the lens of history, The Disappearing Spoon talks about every element on the periodic table, its properties and its history, not to mention the history how the periodic table itself came about. I found it a fascinating read, and the history of science in general is a subject I feel gets something of a short shrift, both in academia (in study of history or science) and in worldbuilding.
Until this century, science was something someone could putter around with. There were, of course, men (and women) of scholarship working out of universities. But there was plenty of science being done, more or less, by the bored and wealthy as a hobby. A lot of discoveries came about through trial and error of people filling up their spare time. X-rays, for example, were discovered by someone who was just messing around with different stuff to see what would happen. When said messing around resulted in a picture of his bones, he was convinced he had actually gone insane, and in order to prove to himself that it wasn't real, he kept repeating it over and over, and then showed it to his wife (who fainted dead away).
Most science was done with the time honored tradition of the following steps.
- Poke something.
- See what happens.
- Poke it again and see if it happens again.
Will this stuff come into play in what you write? Probably not. But it's always more interesting when you know it.
The other good reason to read The Disappearing Spoon? Little bits of science trivia you just might apply in your worldbuilding. Here's a free one: copper is a natural disinfectant, killing bacteria. Water piped through copper pipes won't have bacteria, nor will copper coins or doorknobs.