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

ISBN13: 9780307351784
ISBN10: 0307351785
All Product Details

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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 twentieth 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 continues to shape our lives in the most fundamental and dramatic of ways.

Review:

"Fixed nitrogen (which is immediately usable to plants) is essential in agriculture. Its rarity, as science writer Hager (The Demon Under the Microscope) shows, dramatically shaped the world and its politics. But by 1905, as Hager details, German chemist Fritz Haber discovered a process for transforming abundant air-borne nitrogen into ammonia, and Carl Bosch's ingenious engineering scaled Haber's benchtop chemistry into industrial processes to make fertilizer. But Hager's story is not only one of triumph, of how Haber and Bosch 'invented a way to turn air into bread,' earning a Nobel Prize and saving millions from starvation. This is also a story of irony and tragedy. First, life-saving nitrogen is also the main ingredient in explosives, and Hager cogently summarizes the Haber-Bosch process's critical role in both world wars. In addition, Hager illustrates Haber's extreme German patriotism and desperate wish to assimilate; shattered by the rise of Hitler, he became an outcast, abandoned even by his onetime colleague Bosch. It's unfortunate that Hager ends his fine book with only a brief look at the deleterious role of nitrogen on the environment. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

Somehow fertilizer seems an unlikely subject for a Faustian tale about pride, vanity and ambition. Yet here it is: Chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch won Nobel Prizes for their contributions to humanity as young men and reached the pinnacle of German science, only to be brought low by their own, very human failings.

Haber and Bosch invented industrially made fertilizer during the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Science writing of the first order." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"[A] gripping account of the partnership between two Nobel Prize winners whose efforts to save the world had tragic consequences we're still sifting through today." Plenty magazine

Review:

"You will certainly find [Hager's] story of [Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch] and their discover to be enlightening and entertaining....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

Review:

"Thanks to two visionary and troubled scientists, we are all now, in Hager's words, 'creatures of the air,' dependent for our very existence on a process whose consequences we don't completely understand." BookPage

Synopsis:

Hager recounts the story of the two men who found a solution to the eminent problem of global starvation at the turn of the 20th century. But their discovery came at a price: the same process they engineered into synthetic fertilizer was used to make the explosives that killed millions during both world wars.

About the Author

A veteran science and medical writer, Thomas Hager is the author of The Demon Under the Microscope; Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling; and more than a hundred news and feature articles in Reader's Digest, Journal of the American Medical Association, and many other publications.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Robert L. Orr, December 26, 2010 (view all comments by Robert L. Orr)
Outstanding read, engaging in both the history of the early 20th century and the impact of technological and industrial innovations on the rise of national power. As a chemistry teacher who enjoys historical narratives, I couldn't put it down. As a general reader who likes adding substance to my understanding of history this was a first-rate read with fascinating insight into the development of Germany prior to and during both world wars.
The epilogue offers great insights into the current status of nitrogen on our planet.
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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
karmey57, March 2, 2009 (view all comments by karmey57)
A book about the discovery and manufacture of synthetic nitrogen? BOR-ing! But it was fascinating and I finished it in a week. Probably anyone who reads histories and biographies will totally dig it.
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(2 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307351784
Subtitle:
A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler
Publisher:
Crown
Author:
Hager, Thomas
Subject:
History
Subject:
Technological innovations
Subject:
General
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Scientists - General
Subject:
Technological innovations -- History.
Subject:
Haber, Fritz
Subject:
General science
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Publication Date:
20080909
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
9.44x6.70x1.18 in. 1.28 lbs.

Related Subjects

» Biography » Historical
» Biography » Science and Technology
» Reference » Science Reference » General
» Science and Mathematics » Chemistry » General
» Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General

The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World But Fueled the Rise of Hitler
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages Harmony - English 9780307351784 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Fixed nitrogen (which is immediately usable to plants) is essential in agriculture. Its rarity, as science writer Hager (The Demon Under the Microscope) shows, dramatically shaped the world and its politics. But by 1905, as Hager details, German chemist Fritz Haber discovered a process for transforming abundant air-borne nitrogen into ammonia, and Carl Bosch's ingenious engineering scaled Haber's benchtop chemistry into industrial processes to make fertilizer. But Hager's story is not only one of triumph, of how Haber and Bosch 'invented a way to turn air into bread,' earning a Nobel Prize and saving millions from starvation. This is also a story of irony and tragedy. First, life-saving nitrogen is also the main ingredient in explosives, and Hager cogently summarizes the Haber-Bosch process's critical role in both world wars. In addition, Hager illustrates Haber's extreme German patriotism and desperate wish to assimilate; shattered by the rise of Hitler, he became an outcast, abandoned even by his onetime colleague Bosch. It's unfortunate that Hager ends his fine book with only a brief look at the deleterious role of nitrogen on the environment. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Science writing of the first order."
"Review" by , "[A] gripping account of the partnership between two Nobel Prize winners whose efforts to save the world had tragic consequences we're still sifting through today." Plenty magazine
"Review" by , "You will certainly find [Hager's] story of [Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch] and their discover to be enlightening and entertaining....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."
"Review" by , "Thanks to two visionary and troubled scientists, we are all now, in Hager's words, 'creatures of the air,' dependent for our very existence on a process whose consequences we don't completely understand."
"Synopsis" by , Hager recounts the story of the two men who found a solution to the eminent problem of global starvation at the turn of the 20th century. But their discovery came at a price: the same process they engineered into synthetic fertilizer was used to make the explosives that killed millions during both world wars.
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