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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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science and progress effect our lives

a must read for anyone who has a feeling of care for themselves, this world, and the future of progress.

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Unfulfilling

The story starts with a fascinating look at the world-wide impact and history of food production. I was totally enthralled. Then the story delves into detailed scientific processes that only a scientist could enjoy, for almost the rest of the book. There are too many supporting characters people to remember and it's hard to know who will be significant or insignificant. There are many topics in the book that peaked my interest but were left unfulfilled after a mere mention. I kept listening because I hoped the final chapters would be as interesting as the first. I was wrong. The final chapters were again sparse on interesting details. And the final kicker was the very last sentence. It was a horrible sentence to close a book, especially a book in which I regretted spending my time.

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The connections made from the past to the present and into the future - thank you

A very good history lesson that sheds light on the present and the future. Good job!

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history is about to repeat-------<br />again

An uncomfortable feeling grew as I listened through almost nonstop , at some point I realized that feeling was associated with my being in an out of control car waiting to see if I survived the stop. As I finished I became aware that the out of control car feeling wasn't about the stop, it was the realization we're starting it again

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Slow to start but worth the wait

At first I wasn't pulled in but after the 3rd chapter I couldn't put it down. I learned more then I thought I would from this book.

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Great narrative. Bogged down at beginning and end

This is a good book for anyone interested in the history of science or of the firms BASF and IG Farbin. It tells the story of the struggle to synthesize nitrogen for fertilizer (and explosives) and the story of two men (Haber - the pure scientist who figured out how to do it - and Bosch - the scientist/engineer/businessman who figured out how to optimize that process and make it cost effective). The story incorporates mini-stories of early application and sources of fertilizer (mostly in Peru and Chile), how BASF transformed from a cloth dye company to the largest chemical company in the world (by sales), poison gas development in WWI, how IG Farbin (the German chemical conglomerate) was formed, and the tangential story of synthetic gasoline that powered a lot of the Third Reich.
The Alchemy of Air's story easily flows across industries, people and history. I think this is one of those things that looks easiest to do when it is done very well - but weaving this kind of tale isn't very easy, so Thomas Hagan does a great job.
I got bogged down in the beginning and put this audio book down for months because it just didn't grab me. When I picked up the story, it took off. The problem was probably me and not the book, but was my experience nevertheless. Similarly, I started getting bored over the last 30-45 minutes as the story(ies) wound down.
Overall, a great book - just hold on if things feel a little slow, it will pick up again and you will be happy with the overall experience.

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There are few that put together the synergy of sci

What made the experience of listening to The Alchemy of Air the most enjoyable?

There are few that put together the synergy of science, commerce, and their places in history so well as Thomas Hager. I bought Demon Under the Microscope at a sale price, and consider one of the best reads in decades. Alchemy of Air is equally absorbing.

I have taught physics and engineering at university for years, and I try and make history and commerce part of the background in my courses. Personalities and economic pressures do shape the course of technology and as Mr. Hager points out, not always for the better. I hope Mr. Hager continues these pursuits, and might consider exploring the threads of more physics, chemistry, and engineering.

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loved this book and story

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

yes; important story that was told very well

What did you like best about this story?

the importance to human development

What about Adam Verner’s performance did you like?

clear

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

good from beginning to end

Any additional comments?

important to know

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What a Fortunate Thing to Stumble Upon

Would you listen to The Alchemy of Air again? Why?

Yes yes yes, I could listen and re-listen to these chapters over and over again and still feel like I was gaining something new from it.

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

I felt so fortunate that I stumbled upon this book. I love science reading, and I love the fact that the author brought back to life a topic most people would have otherwise forgotten or not cared about. I didn't realize the impact of the discovery of nitrogen fixation had on the entire world. I abhor history reading, but this was a digestible form of reading for me. The author really gave character to his - well, characters. My favorite part was when Crooks gave a speech to convince the scientific community that we needed to work on increasing food production, that then went on to discovering nitrogen fixation, that then went on to fuel war, innovation, technology, and increased food production. Wow!

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Great story of science, engineering and history

Would you listen to The Alchemy of Air again? Why?

I'll probably listen again - It's a great story with fascinating characters and interesting science.

What other book might you compare The Alchemy of Air to and why?

the first human, 4% universe, the black hole war