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The Alchemy of Air Audiobook

The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler

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Publisher's Summary

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.

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.4 (890 )
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4.3 (743 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Peter Sydney, Australia 10-22-12
    Peter Sydney, Australia 10-22-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Best Non Fiction I have listened to so far"
    What did you love best about The Alchemy of Air?

    It was fasinating to follow the tangents that developed through the story


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Alchemy of Air?

    Little tidbits like the acronym SHIT store high in transit


    What about Adam Verner’s performance did you like?

    Clear concise read that made you feel like you were reading not listening


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes


    Any additional comments?

    This is the first reveiw I have made. This book compelled me to reveiw as it deserves every accolade.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jonathan 10-09-12
    Jonathan 10-09-12

    Prefer History & Non-Fiction. I seem to lack the stamina to "power through" a book; Audible is a great way to be "well-read" without reading

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Genius & Demon: A Man's Invention feeds the World"
    Where does The Alchemy of Air rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Probably one of the best as far as the storyline goes. Really very interesting


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Alchemy of Air?

    I thought it was fascinating to read how Haber developed poison gas for use by the Germans in World War I. Haber then developed a system for deploying/distributing the gas, and supervised the release of the gas at the front lines. Haber's wife committed suicide, using his service revolver, soon after the chemical warfare was initiated.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    There are parts of the book that sound like an "Introduction to Chemistry" textbook. An understanding of the chemistry involved helped tell the story. Although engrossing, this was not a book that I personally would have enjoyed in "one sitting".


    Any additional comments?

    This was an all-round fascinating biography of a man whose discoveries/inventions have had both positive and negative impact of the lives of millions (if not billions) of people. Highly Recommended!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Valerie 04-04-12
    Valerie 04-04-12
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    13
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    "Fascinating story, terrible narration."
    Would you try another book from Thomas Hager and/or Adam Verner?

    Very interesting story. I never eralized the importance of nitrogen to agriculture or to munitions.


    Would you be willing to try another one of Adam Verner’s performances?

    No. Naration is stodgy, odd and distracting.


    Could you see The Alchemy of Air being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    No


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Warnie Plano, TX, United States 02-17-12
    Warnie Plano, TX, United States 02-17-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Somewhat sensationalized, but really interesting!"

    This is an account of two German men (Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch) responsible for figuring out how to fix nitrogen on a large scale, and about their experiences during World Wars I and II. This was a little too sensationalized for my liking at times, and definitely too repetitive, and I thought the way Hager chose to end it was kind of strange, but it's still a very interesting story. Good narration as well.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Melbourne, Australia 01-01-12
    James Melbourne, Australia 01-01-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History &/or Science buff? This ones for you!"

    Fantastic history of the science & politics revolving around fixed nitrogen. Sound boring? You might be surprised at how this has effected all our lives, in peace and war.

    Excellent book.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Norwood Fresno, CA 12-26-11
    Paul Norwood Fresno, CA 12-26-11 Member Since 2011

    Paul Norwood

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    "Essential knowledge"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. This very interesting history portrays the heartbreak of a genius who did everything humanly possible to be accepted but to no avail.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    This story is about Fritz Haber, a nobel prize winner and also some think a war criminal.


    What about Adam Verner???s performance did you like?

    He did not envolve himself in the story, it went smoothly and the reader just did his job and that is to read.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The man who has saved the lives of 4 billion people


    Any additional comments?

    This critical biography is a must for any who have a good interest in history.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cecil Quincy, Ma, United States 11-22-11
    Cecil Quincy, Ma, United States 11-22-11 Listener Since 2007
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    "How to feed 7 billion people"

    Sufficient food for all of us can not be grown using naturally occuring fertilizers and/or nitrates. Enter two geniuses who successfully thunk up a process for creating unlimited nitrates from the unlimited nitrogen in the air. WahLah! Today we all eat well (except for those in a society where corruption is the rule).

    These two German geniuses did it to make money, a lot of money (feeding the masses was the by-product, not their motivation). They succeeded in mastering the technology and exporting the technology to the globe inspite of despot governments in Germany (Think WWI and WWII and before).

    The importance of this miracle can not be overstated. One interesting application was that President Nixon's initial visit to China was followed by China importing this technology to feed its masses.

    Any student of modern European history should consider this book a must!


    Cecil R. Williams

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas W. Culbertson Eastanollee, GA United States 10-21-11
    Thomas W. Culbertson Eastanollee, GA United States 10-21-11 Listener Since 1999
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating Technology, People &Historical Period"

    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

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dann Los Angeles, CA, United States 10-06-11
    Dann Los Angeles, CA, United States 10-06-11 Member Since 2009

    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.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What a great history ..."

    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.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A Synthetic Biologist 08-30-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Good overview of the development of Haber Bosch"

    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.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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  • Kuba
    7/16/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Hit story, miss narration "

    What a great book, I've been meaning to read it for over a year now. I wasn't disappointed with the story, an amazing peek into history from a fresh angle that we don't really learn about in any other platform. HOWEVER! Adam Verner's voice was really a problem, I am a sound engineer myself so I do understand the studio process, the voice sounds very much robotic, as if it has auto tune running on it (!?) at the beginning of the book I was actually under the impression that it was being narrated by speach software, it took a while to realise that it was actually an actor. Having gone so far as to look at Mr. Verner's website, he is actually a great voice actor, so either the processing on the voice was extremely heavy or Adam just missed the plot on this particular performance. It really made the listening experience less pleasant than it should have been. Having said that, I would still get the book, regardless. The story is really strong enough to deal with the voice. and frankly, I'm most probably going to listen to it again another couple times to get all the details memorized.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • KäufR
    1/21/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Strange narration"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    I was convinced at the start that this was the result of automated text-to-speech software, but apparently the narrator is a real human. The intonation and cadence is most strange - I am surprised that a professional 'voice talent' can make a career sounding like a robot. The pronunciation of German names and words (quite a few in this book) were also very unlike the correct versions - a little homework goes a long way.


    Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Adam Verner?

    A human.


    You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The story is fascinating, if a little heavy in detail. I mostly enjoyed the book and have learnt a lot from this well-researched history.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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