The Alchemy of Air

The Alchemy of Air


By (author) Thomas Hager

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  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 336 pages
  • Dimensions: 132mm x 201mm x 18mm | 227g
  • Publication date: 18 August 2009
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0307351793
  • ISBN 13: 9780307351791
  • Sales rank: 110,551

Product description

Tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the discovery that changed billions of lives-including your own. At the dawn of the twentieth century, humanity was facing global disaster: Mass starvation was about to become a reality. A call went out to the world's scientists to find a solution. This is the story of the two men who found it: brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch. Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, and saved millions of lives. But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically. The Alchemy of Air is the extraordinary, previously untold story of a discovery that changed the way we grow food and the way we make war-and that promises to continue shaping our lives in fundamental and dramatic ways.

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Author information

A veteran science and medical writer, THOMAS HAGER is the author of "The Demon Under the Microscope"; "Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling"; and more than a hundred news and feature articles in "Reader's Digest," "Journal of the American Medical Association," and many other publications.

Review quote

Named one of the Best Books of 2008 by "Kirkus Reviews " "Make[s] the scientific process as suspenseful as a good whodunit." --"Oregonian" "[A] smooth, well-researched book that reads like a fast-paced novel." --News & Observer (Raleigh) "This scientific adventure spans two world wars and every cell in your body." --"Discover" magazine" " "Haber and Bosch are fascinating if troubled personalities, brought by Hager compellingly to life." --"Washington Post Book World" "[A] gripping account of the partnership between two Nobel Prize winners whose efforts to save the world had tragic consequences we're still sifting through today." --"Plenty" magazine "You will certainly find [Hager's] story of [Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch] and their discover to be enlightening and entertaining....I know of few other books that provide the general reader with a better portrait of chemistry as the most useful of sciences, and I intend to recommend it to scientists and non-scientists alike." --"The Journal of Chemical Education" "Many discoveries and inventions are touted as history-changing. But as Thomas Hager admirably proves in his new book, "The Alchemy of Air," Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch not only changed history, they made much of recent human history possible. As Hager solemnly notes in his introduction, 'the discovery described in this book is keeping alive nearly half the people on earth.' ....As with almost all technological advancement, however, there is a downside. The synthetic Haber-Bosch nitrogen, which now makes up about half the nitrogen in every human body, also fueled the weapons of the world wars and created a nitrogen-rich environment that is having a huge impact on Earth, from lush vegetative growth to dead zones in the oceans. Thanks to two visionary and troubled scientists, we are all now, in Hager's words, 'creatures of the air, ' dependent for our very existence on a process whose consequences