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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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Super interesting

This is one of those books that reveals the amazing ingenuity of mankind and weaved it into history to where it all makes sense. This book is super interesting if you like to know how things were invented and thought of. The technological advances in history of this type are amazing.

Great book, AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY

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Great story, narrator could be better.

I got sucked into the story really fast. the narration and German pronunciation could be improved and I had to look the words up half the time.

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interesting story but ...

the reader's odd choice of inflection was distracting to me. beyond that, the story was presented in a well organized way that was generous in background and conclusion.

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Rich History and Great Understanding of Culture

If you could sum up The Alchemy of Air in three words, what would they be?

Energy of Fertilization

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

The understanding of how fertilizer came into being such an important commodity and the interesting history around it. I was amazed at the drive and creative formation of life and culture around fertilizer. The global motivation for control and dominance lead to a much greater understanding of the cultures we are experiencing today.

Which scene was your favorite?

When the ship captain who thought he was in control, got blown off his ship on rhe coast of Peru in south america.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

no

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Fascinating and Informative

For those who prefer non-fiction, history, technology, visionary personalities. An intriguing and educational account of history, Peru, Chile, Guano and Saltpetre eras and German technology and industry. I'm an engineer, I didn't realise . . .

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The untold history of chemical weapons

Where does The Alchemy of Air rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Top listens!

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

the British tested chemical weapons and killed more of their own men than the "enemy."

Which scene was your favorite?

The relationship between Fritz Haber and Einstein and how they respond to German antisemitism. Haber totally renounced his Jewish religion.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It makes me cry to know of man's inhumanity to man and how justified we all become about literally killing the other side. As we all know, WWI was a horror and not the Great War but the beginning of using "technology" to destroy the enemy. Most soldiers had NO idea what they were dying for, and really neither did the leaders.

Any additional comments?

Maybe if we studied more real history we wouldn't be so doomed to repeat it. We study war with events that instill nationality and prowar sentiment. In schools, history is military history and only the "battles" the US won.

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Superb: best-of-class science non-fiction

Makes my all-time top 10 non-fiction list. Seamlessly combines human drama and an epic scientific story. Tight narrative; clear & clean presentation of technical details; vivid historical context.

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Excellent

Excellent. I couldn't stop listening. One of the most enjoyable productions I've encountered since downloading Audible. I look forward to enjoying Thomas Hager other works.

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German chemists and the nitrogen cycle

fascinating combination of history, science, and environmentalism. one of the most interesting non-fiction books of the year

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Great book, terrible narration.

The book itself was really interesting but the narration made it hard to pay attention. The reading wasn't an even tempo and was very slow. I tried speeding it up but the unevenness made it awkward. My advice, buy the book and read it yourself.