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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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  • Story
  • Peter
  • Sydney, Australia
  • 10-22-12

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

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  • Performance
  • Story

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

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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

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  • Warnie
  • Plano, TX, United States
  • 02-17-12

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

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  • James
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • 01-01-12

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

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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

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  • Cecil
  • Quincy, Ma, United States
  • 11-22-11

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

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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

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  • Dann
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 10-06-11

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

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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