A sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the discovery that changed billions of lives - including your own.
At the dawn of the 20th century, humanity was facing global disaster. Mass starvation, long predicted for the fast-growing population, 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 enormously gifted, fatally flawed men who found it: the brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and the reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch.
Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, controlled world markets, and saved millions of lives. Their invention continues to feed us today; without it, more than two billion people would starve.
But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and high explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically. Today we face the other unintended consequences of their discovery - massive nitrogen pollution and a growing pandemic of obesity.
The Alchemy of Air is the extraordinary, previously untold story of two master scientists who saved the world only to lose everything and of the unforseen results of a discovery that continue to shape our lives in the most fundamental and dramatic of ways.
©2008 Thomas Hager (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"This scientific adventure spans two world wars and every cell in your body." (Discover magazine)
“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)
The book is excellent. It shows how technology transcends Nazism, Marxism, Democracy and Racism.
It is very good lesion in history and economics. It brings to life some extremely interesting and important people
My preference for a good story is something totally unusual and not run of the mill stuff. Give me something I haven't heard before.
This is so great and a testament to great innovations but also how excess can eventually kill us if we don't recognize it soon enough.
This is a good overview of the development of the Haber Bosch process, which is central to modern agriculture and thus society as we know it. The book is a little brief, but gives a good overview. Haber, who developed the small scale process, led a very conflicting life. His invention fed the world but also led to ability to make endless munitions. Assimilation was central to his German identity, only to embrace his Jeweshness as his life came to an end. The author could have played up these dichoties and created a more compelling narative, but that would have likely been less honest. Bosch was the man who took Haber's impractical process and scaled it up. Haber even admits that he didn't think that would be possible.
Aside from the personal stories, this book shows how determination can take a seemingly impossible physical process and turn it into a reality. I am interested in the future of fuels, and one of the things that interested me about this book were the parallels between the difficulties that Bosch encountered and the difficulties that our society faces as we try to use similar technology (Fischer Tropsch) to generate fuel from CO2. This book makes it sound like Bosch was a man who could have turned CO2 into fuel economically, given an adequate source of cheap energy.
I was unable to listen to more than six chapters of this book due to its lack of fluency. The story goes back and forth from the discussion of chemistry to German culture and thinking...the story never gets off the ground...so disappointing.
Did I really need to know about the battles fought over bird dung? The inordinate amount of time spent on detailing the battles fought over this was mind numbingly boring. I would recommend the ' other book "The Demon Under the Microscope" --it was much better.
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