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

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

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

Used - Acceptable: All pages and the cover are intact, but shrink wrap, dust covers, or boxed set case may be missing. Pages may include limited notes, highlighting, or minor water damage but the text is readable. Item may but the dust cover may be missing. This could possibly be an ex-library book. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting, but the text cannot be obscured or unreadable.
See more
Sold by Bay State Book Company and fulfilled by Amazon.
[{"displayPrice":"$17.00","priceAmount":17.00,"currencySymbol":"$","integerValue":"17","decimalSeparator":".","fractionalValue":"00","symbolPosition":"left","hasSpace":false,"showFractionalPartIfEmpty":true,"offerListingId":"dkz7atM60UbSfX5yBSPkqdlGPaa98qOCyk%2FzHbvHaPubbBdOVTjXRf6MBMzM3LKaKKaBBeUHZdnIy74J0i%2FstcrnvbiKAaKuohGdyGcuX%2BeaceD7MOYaS3a6I5xED2xNQQXOLnFw2tw%3D","locale":"en-US","buyingOptionType":"NEW"},{"displayPrice":"$13.28","priceAmount":13.28,"currencySymbol":"$","integerValue":"13","decimalSeparator":".","fractionalValue":"28","symbolPosition":"left","hasSpace":false,"showFractionalPartIfEmpty":true,"offerListingId":"Nyn7cjUZpg5zX9O9cEL6tEOElmWlu59OIsa7YFJbbp41GUkgRKM3bOyDhKlqhmzpwc4Bv%2FQuEmRrcu%2FC6CIuS1GionxA9aVG9IMiVvN4DmozlYvfnvvtLIiKEUuoIJ0CAe9rjHknjdpudqMy92IrkxVSZZOjGVDQ5TjHKCTSDfF3U%2B3W4FM3d6ol4jMUEjsK","locale":"en-US","buyingOptionType":"USED"}]
$$17.00 () Includes selected options. Includes initial monthly payment and selected options. Details
Price
Subtotal
$$17.00
Subtotal
Initial payment breakdown
Shipping cost, delivery date, and order total (including tax) shown at checkout.
ADD TO LIST
Available at a lower price from other sellers that may not offer free Prime shipping.
SELL ON AMAZON
Share this product with friends
Text Message
WhatsApp
Copy
press and hold to copy
Email
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Loading your book clubs
There was a problem loading your book clubs. Please try again.
Not in a club? Learn more
Join or create book clubs
Choose books together
Track your books
Bring your club to Amazon Book Clubs, start a new book club and invite your friends to join, or find a club that’s right for you for free. Explore Amazon Book Clubs
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.
Hear something amazing
Discover audiobooks, podcasts, originals, wellness and more.
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Frequently bought together

+
+
Choose items to buy together.
Buy all three: $57.99
$17.00
$15.00
$25.99
Total price:
To see our price, add these items to your cart.
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Book details

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Description

Product Description

A sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the Haber-Bosch discovery that changed billions of lives—including your own.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, humanity was facing global disaster: Mass starvation 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 men who found it: brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch. Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, and saved millions of lives.

But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically.

The Alchemy of Air is the extraordinary, previously untold story of a discovery that changed the way we grow food and the way we make war–and that promises to continue shaping our lives in fundamental and dramatic ways.

Review

Named one of the Best Books of 2008 by Kirkus Reviews

"Make[s] the scientific process as suspenseful as a good whodunit."
Oregonian

"[A] smooth, well-researched book that reads like a fast-paced novel."
—News & Observer (Raleigh)

"This scientific adventure spans two world wars and every cell in your body."
Discover magazine

"Haber and Bosch are fascinating if troubled personalities, brought by Hager compellingly to life."
Washington Post Book World

“[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

“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

“Many discoveries and inventions are touted as history-changing. But as Thomas Hager admirably proves in his new book, The Alchemy of Air, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch not only changed history, they made much of recent human history possible. As Hager solemnly notes in his introduction, ‘the discovery described in this book is keeping alive nearly half the people on earth.’ ….As with almost all technological advancement, however, there is a downside. The synthetic Haber-Bosch nitrogen, which now makes up about half the nitrogen in every human body, also fueled the weapons of the world wars and created a nitrogen-rich environment that is having a huge impact on Earth, from lush vegetative growth to dead zones in the oceans. 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

A fast-paced account of the early-20th-century quest to develop synthetic fertilizer. Today hundreds of factories convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia in order to manufacture the artificial fertilizers that make modern-day agricultural yields possible. They are based on the technological advance known as the Haber-Bosch process, developed prior to World War I by the German chemists and Nobel laureates Fritz Haber (1868–1934) and Carl Bosch (1874–1940). Hager ( The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug, 2006, etc.) offers a superb narrative of these brilliant men and their scientific discovery. Around the turn of the century, the world faced a shortage of the fixed nitrogen needed to provide food for a growing population. Hager sets the stage by describing the world’s reliance in the 19th century on nitrates from Peru and Chile that could be used as natural fertilizer or to make gunpowder, and finds plenty of human drama in the battles to control the lucrative international trade. Determined to help end Germany’s dependence on South American nitrates, Bosch and Haber worked at the German chemical company BASF to find a way to convert nitrogen into ammonia. Bosch developed the process, and Haber designed bigger industrial plants. By 1944, the Haber-Bosch factory at Leuna—a primary target for U.S. bombers—occupied three square miles and employed 35,000 workers. The author not only illuminates the scientists’ complex work, but also digs into their personal lives. Bosch, a melancholic with a huge villa in Heidelberg, asked Hitler to spare Jewish scientists for the sake of German chemistry and physics (the Fuhrer replied: “Then we’ll just have to work 100 years without physics and chemistry!”). Haber, a Jew, developed the chlorine gas used in World War I, sought a way to extract gold from the oceans to pay off German war reparations and conducted research that led to the development of the Zyklon B gas used in Nazi death camps. Science writing of the first order.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

The prophecy was made in the fall of 1898, in a music hall in Bristol, England, by a thin man with a graying, neatly trimmed beard and a mustache waxed to alarmingly long, needlelike points. His audience, the cream of British science, thousands of formally dressed men and bejeweled women, were seated in a low-rent venue, what Americans would have called a vaudeville palace--a last-minute substitute for an academic auditorium that had burned down--but they dutifully filed in and filled every seat from the orchestra pit to the highest balcony. The hall was uncomfortably hot, especially in the upper seats. Exquisitely gowned women began opening their fans. Evening-coated men began murmuring to their neighbors that it looked as if it were going to be a long evening.

The speaker was Sir William Crookes, 1898''s incoming president of the British Academy of Sciences. Impeccably dressed, erect and resolute, he looked every inch the triumphant, newly knighted physicist he was: inventor of the Crookes Tube (a predecessor of the cathode ray tubes used later for televisions and computers), recent discoverer of an interesting new addition to the periodic table that he had named thallium, fearless explorer of science, even out to its furthest edges--Crookes was an active researcher in the area of seances and the question of life after death.

Inaugural speeches were often deadly dull. The incoming presidents of scientific associations almost always droned long lists of achievements made during the past year, with nods to numerous individual researchers, sprinkled with homilies about the importance of science for the British Empire. Crookes, however, had decided to shake things up. He adjusted his oval glasses, glanced at his notes, looked up, and got right to the point. "England and all civilized nations," he said, "stand in deadly peril."

The fans in the balcony stopped fluttering. Crookes''s voice was clear but he spoke softly. The hall went silent, the audience straining to hear as the speaker continued. If nothing was done soon, he explained, great numbers of people, especially in the world''s most advanced nations, were soon going to begin starving to death. This was a conclusion that he was forced to accept, he said, after considering two simple facts: "As mouths multiply," he said, "food sources dwindle." The number of mouths had been increasing for some time thanks to advances in sanitation and medical care, from the installation of improved water systems to the introduction of antiseptics. These were great triumphs for humanity. But they carried with them a threat. While population increased, land was limited; there were only so many farmable acres on earth. When every one of those acres was under the plow and farmed as well as it could be, the population would keep going up, the farmed and refarmed soil would slowly lose its fertility, and mass starvation would, of necessity, ensue. His research led him to estimate, he said, that humans would begin dying of hunger in large numbers some time around the 1930s.

There was only one way to stop it, he said. And then he told them what it was.


Every agricultural society in every age has had its own methods, rites, and prayers for ensuring rich crops. Homer sang of farmers gathering heaps of mule and cow dung. The Romans worshipped a god of manure, Stercutius. Rome made an early science of agriculture, ranking various animal excrements (including human), composts, blood, and ashes according to their fertilizing power. Pigeon dung, they found, was the best overall for growing crops, and cattle dung was clearly better than horse manure. Fresh human urine was best for young plants, aged urine for fruit trees.

Both the Romans and the ancient Chinese also understood that there was another key to a healthy farm: crop rotation. No one knew why or how it worked, but never planting the same crop twice consecutively in the same land, instead alternating it with certain crops like peas and clovers, managed to replenish the fertility of fields. Every few years the Chinese made sure to rotate in a crop of soybeans; chickpeas were the crop of choice in the Middle East, lentils in India, and mung beans in Southeast Asia; and Europeans used peas or beans or clover. "Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow" was more than a children''s rhyme. It was a timetable for successful farming.

Healthy farms had compost pits, plenty of domestic animals for manure, and a system of crop rotation. But it was never enough. It took scores of tons of manure per acre to grow great crops. Manure gathering and handling grew into a small industry, employing thousands of workers who scoured the countryside for cow and pig excrement, cleared city streets of horse manure, and then sold it by the stinking ton to farmers and gardeners. There was never enough. A heavy application of manure helped for a season or two, but then the fertility of the soil declined and more was needed. In the most intensively cultivated land in Europe--the Marais district of Paris--owners of small city-garden plots applied dung at rates as high as hundreds of tons per acre, and every year they had to repeat the process. By 1700 or so, hungry Europeans were experimenting with other soil additives in an attempt to increase their yields, trying sea salt, powdered limestone, burned bones, rotting fish, anything that might keep their soils producing.

But the world''s best farmers were not in Europe. In the wet, warm farmlands of southeastern China, farmers a millennium ago were already expert in using every possible kind of fertilizer, hoarding their human waste and adding it to the output from their domestic animals, composting vegetable scraps and leaves, and tossing in seed cakes to enrich their fields. It was all applied to the most ingenious farm system imaginable: a complex of dike-and-pond fields in which they grew not only rice, mulberries, sugarcane, and fruits but also carp. The fish waste helped fertilize the crops. The dung of the water buffaloes used to work the fields helped fertilize the crops. So did the waste of the ducks that swam in the ponds. They grew a native water fern in the paddies that acted like a crop of soybeans, adding fertility to the soil. The tropical climate allowed multiple harvests per year. This was the highest-yield traditional agricultural system ever devised. Using it, the Chinese could feed as many as ten people with the output from each acre of farmland, a yield of food five to ten times higher than the European average of the 1800s. "The Chinese are the most admirable gardeners," an appreciative European scientist wrote in 1840. "The agriculture of their country is the most perfect in the world."


It was not enough. During the nineteenth century, millions of people left the farm and flocked to cities during the Industrial Revolution. As the cities grew and the population of the earth rose faster and faster, it became clear that feeding ten people per acre, the pinnacle of traditional agriculture, was nowhere near good enough. The crisis Crookes predicted would have happened fifty years before his speech, but for the opening of vast new farming territories, from the Great Plains of the United States and the steppes of Russia to the vast landscapes of Australia. When their land played out, farmers simply moved west or south or east to the next expanse of virgin soil.
Now, however, Crookes warned, the earth held no more Great Plains. The globe had been explored, mapped, and the best agricultural areas settled and plowed. From this point on, farmers would have to make do with the land they had, refarming the same acres year after year. This brought Crookes to the critical issue: When land was farmed repeatedly, no matter how carefully crops were rotated, no matter how scrupulously every bit of animal dung was applied, the soil slowly lost its original fertility.

His analysis focused on wheat, the staple of Europeans and North Americans, the staff of life for Caucasians. Any drop in wheat production threatened, as he put it, "racial starvation." His conclusion, based on what he called stubborn facts, seemed incontrovertible: In a few decades, the populations of the great wheat-eating peoples--including the Caucasians of the British Empire, northern Europe, and the United States--would outstrip their grain of choice, and thousands of people, then hundreds of thousands, then millions, would begin to die.

The best traditional farming techniques in the world were not enough to avert the coming crisis. England itself was using the most advanced farming techniques, the best possible mix of crop rotation, animal manuring, and composting, and the English, he said, would be starving now if they did not import tons of grain from other nations. What would happen when those other nations, in order to feed their own growing populations, stopped exporting?

Product information

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Videos

Help others learn more about this product by uploading a video!
Upload video
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who bought this item also bought

Customer reviews

4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
362 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

DaveF
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Greatly important slice of history!
Reviewed in the United States on March 8, 2017
This was a very good read - 4.5 stars. Author Thomas Hager is engaging, clear, and he held my interest. The subjects - renowned German chemists (and Nobel laureates) Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed what could be argued as the most important chemical process in human... See more
This was a very good read - 4.5 stars. Author Thomas Hager is engaging, clear, and he held my interest. The subjects - renowned German chemists (and Nobel laureates) Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed what could be argued as the most important chemical process in human history - Nitrogen Fixation via the Haber-Bosch process. Nitrogen fixation - creating ammonia essentially from air (nitrogen and hydrogen) allowed for the production of both fertilizer and high explosives. World-wide fertilizer distribution in turn created the green revolution and has allowed the world''s population to explode from less than 2 to over 6 billion (and growing), with the average person going from a marginal existence to an "over-eater". It has also contributed to nitrogen pollution of world-wide waters, ecological destruction, and climate change. High explosives greatly helped create the horrors of both World Wars and countless smaller conflicts, killing many, many millions. It is close to impossible to overstate the importance of this discovery.
As the author details, Haber and Bosch were fascinating, driven, and complicated men. They lived in a time of great upheaval. And they came to understand much of the bad, as well as great significance of their work. My one concern about the book is the range of subjects touched upon and consequent short discussion of a lot of it. Author Thomas Hager had enough important topics and material to write perhaps half a dozen good books. More detail could have been used on the chemistry involved, the moral dilemmas, the Jewish-Nazi interaction (Haber was Jewish), Bosch''s synfuel development, and other topics. Despite this minor qualm, I recommend this book as one from which a lot will be learned.
5 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
RLR
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Story of a Jewish Genius Whose Discovery Fed half the World and Led to Hitler''s Rise
Reviewed in the United States on June 20, 2015
Thomas Hager’s book, The Alchemy of Air, is an extraordinary book that is both fascinating and instructive . It focuses largely on Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. Both became Nobel Laureates. Haber was the utterly brilliant chemist who created the process that made it possible... See more
Thomas Hager’s book, The Alchemy of Air, is an extraordinary book that is both fascinating and instructive . It focuses largely on Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. Both became Nobel Laureates. Haber was the utterly brilliant chemist who created the process that made it possible to create synthetic nitrogen fertilizer out of air when supplies of natural fertilizer from Peru and Chile were beginning to diminish, thereby threatening the world with catastrophic famines. In addition to fertilizers, synthetic ammonia products were also the basis of explosives. Haber’s discovery provided Germany with both the food and the explosives that enabled Germany to stay in WW I for four years; Without it Germany would have had to surrender after about two years. It is estimated that up to half of the world''s population is alive because of Haber''s devvelopment of synthetic fertlizer.

Haber also invented the poison gas that was first launched at the Allies at the Second Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915. The Allied forces were unprepared for the attack in which 10,000 are said to have perished. Haber developed the gas and also the method of delivery. He calculated when the wind would blow the gas away from the German lines and toward the Allied lines. Haber also developed Zyklon A, out of which Zyklon B, the gas used by the Germans in WWII to exterminate the Jews. Both Bosch and Haber were important scientists at BASF before I. G. Farben, the great German conglomerate, was created. Bosch was able to design and have constructed the huge factory that made the mass production of ammontia economically feasible. Without his practical implementation, the Haber discovery would have been economically useless. BASF’s original factory site was at Ludwigshafen. During the early part of WW I, the French were able to bomb Ludwigshafen even with their primitive planes. Bosch created a new site, Leuna, which was far less accessible to French bombers. In WW II, another Farben product. Leunabenzin, synthetric gasoline, enabled Germany to stay in the war in spite of the diminution of supplies of natural petroleum products. During WW II allied, mostly American, bombers bombed Leuna as the key to taking Germany out of the war.

When I. G. Farben was originally formed in 1925, Bosch became its head, In the late 1930s Farben was the world''s largest chemical corporation and the world''s fourth largest corporation., In addition to BASF, Farben''s component corpoations included Hoest, Bayer, Agfa, Fritz Haber (1868-1934) was born Jewish in what was then Breslau and is now Wroclaw in Poland. He converted to Lutheranism. Both of his wives were born Jewish but converted as a condition of marriage. About twenty per cent of BASF-Farben’s scientists, before Hitler, were Jewish as were a number of members of the governing board. Bosch was not a Nazi. He tried unsuccessfully to retain the Jewish scientists. He was more helpful in finding work for them outside of Germany. Farben was speedily Nazified. Bosch ended up an emotional wreck who drank too much after attempting to appease the Nazis while attempting to get his Jewish scientists out of Germany.

Both Haber and Bosch were utter geniuses. I did not realize the crucial importance of Farben before reading this book.I knew it was important. In reality it was crucial to Germany''s war effort in both wars. One of Farben''s corporations during WW II was I.G. Auschwitz which produced buna, synthetic rubber, using Jewish slave labor which were worked to death and then replaced by other slave laborers who were similarly worked to death. After the war, the Allies put an end to Farben although its component parts have flourished. Haber was regarded as a Jew by the Nazis although he had been a passionate German nationalist.

It can be argued that Haber was the most important scientist of the first half of the twentieth century because of his creation of synthetic fertilizer, It can be argued that he was one of the most destructive because of his contributions to German weaponry. In 1933, he left Germany for Cambridge where Lord Rutherford, Britain''s leading physicist, refused to shake his hand,

According to Hager, the huge jump in the world’s population since 1900 was due to the work of Haber and Bosch. Without it, there would have been at least 40% fewer people in the world. Thus, Haber was one of the most important scientists of the twentieth century. Without his discoveries and Bosch’s productive implementation, there would have been catastrophic Malthusian famines. But, Haber who enabled so many to live was also the inventor of the poison gas that killed many. He created zyklon a; zyklon b was used by the Nazis in their death camps. In spite of his desire to serve Germany, the Nazis wanted him out and disgraced. He was a Jew.Religious conversion meant nothing to the Nazis.
14 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Walter Stanley
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A History of Fertilizer, Explosives, and the Birth of High Pressure Chemistry
Reviewed in the United States on February 22, 2018
I imagine few people know of the importance of the work of Fritz Haber and Bosch. According to Thomas Hager, “Their work stands, I believe, as the most important discovery ever made.” Some people might argue that fire, simple weapons and tools, and the wheel out rank... See more
I imagine few people know of the importance of the work of Fritz Haber and Bosch. According to Thomas Hager, “Their work stands, I believe, as the most important discovery ever made.” Some people might argue that fire, simple weapons and tools, and the wheel out rank their ability to turn air into fertilizer, and hence into food, but it is almost certainly the most important discovery made within the past few thousand years. Of course, it also enabled turning air into explosives, and Bosch’s invention of high pressure chemistry, which made the conversion of coal into fuel possible, made Nazi Germany’s war possible. So, their work saved billions from starvation, and made it possible to murder millions. The book acquaints us with many obscure historical details, such as the guano trade in the late 1800s, and the harvesting of nitrate from Peru and Chile. As well as the importance of Bosch’s factory to the Nazis, and the desperate attempt of the Allies to destroy that factory.
I wish I had read this book thirty years ago. I teach AP Chemistry, every year I present the chemical equation of the Haber process in teaching chemical equilibrium: N2 + 3H2 ‹=› 2NH3 + heat, but there are so many interesting and important details that text books leave out. The reaction, to yield a usable amount of ammonia, must be run at 200 atmospheres pressure, using a catalyst so that it can be run at a temperature that will not excessively favor the reverse reaction. The search for a suitable catalyst involved a multitude of trial and error runs, and the equipment needed to operate at such high pressures did not exist, and hydrogen gas, being such a small molecule, seeps into the atomic interstices of metals and causes degradation. And so on.
There are many people who are convinced that artificial fertilizers are unnecessary, and an example of corporate greed to profit from something despite how destructive they are to the environment. This is not true. I think everyone agrees that natural manure would be preferable to the use of artificial fertilizer, but there is no enough of it. We used all the natural manure we could on our farm, including human feces since we had an outhouse, but it was nowhere near enough. China, as Hager points out, had massive starvation in the 1960s, due in part, of course, to Mao’s incompetence, but also because of a lack of fertilizer, and the Chinese certainly knew how to garner manure effectively. Nixon’s reopening trade relations with China enabled them to build Haber-Bosch factories so that now the Chinese are starting to have the same obesity problems that America has – well, not quite that bad. However, we are pumping vastly larger quantities of nitrates into the world than has ever been done before, and it is causing enormous dead zones where large rivers empty into the ocean, and the formation of greenhouse gases that on a molecular basis, absorb far more IR than CO2. Everything good has its bad side, or even several of them.
3 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
K. Kumar
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Alchemy of Air
Reviewed in the United States on December 5, 2015
Overall, I enjoyed Alchemy of Air and the examination of the Haber-Bosch process and its impact on the world. The book raised a lot of interesting questions on the utility and consequences of fixing nitrogen from the air. Though, the premise of the book is a bit... See more
Overall, I enjoyed Alchemy of Air and the examination of the Haber-Bosch process and its impact on the world. The book raised a lot of interesting questions on the utility and consequences of fixing nitrogen from the air. Though, the premise of the book is a bit melodramatic. The author claims that over 2 billion people are alive as a result of the Haber-Bosch process, but that seems pretty speculative.

This is my favorite quote from the book from Bosch:

"I have often asked myself whether it would have been better if we had not succeeded. The war perhaps would have ended sooner with less misery and on better terms. Gentlemen, these questions are all useless. Progress in science and technology cannot be stopped. They are in many ways akin to art. One can persuade the one to halt as little as the others. They drive the people who are born for them to activity."

This is Bosch''s opinion, and it highlights the double-edged nature that this book does of good job of explaining. In fact, the book seems to touch mostly on the negative aspects of the pursuit of better fertilizer and the Haber-Bosch process. Much of the book covers wars, including wars in South America over Guano and salt in Chile, WWI, and WWII. It touches on the slave-like work conditions in Peru and Germany. And in the end, the book notes that the end result is pollution and obesity.

One aspect of the book that threw me off in certain parts was when the author described the challenges with developing the Haber-Bosch process, related to finding a catalyst and dispersing hydrogen. The book would seem to spend a couple paragraphs describing the issues and then suddenly the next sentence would state that Bosch somehow found a solution with explaining the process. It seemed to make the book over dramatic in parts.

Overall, I liked the book.
15 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Pretty interesting and a little ominous
Reviewed in the United States on June 19, 2019
I knew about this process before I bought the book. But this provided a great deal of detail I didn''t know. Interesting to see BASF and others mentioned in a history. And interesting to see that like coal, the agricultural revolution fathered by this process for fixing... See more
I knew about this process before I bought the book. But this provided a great deal of detail I didn''t know. Interesting to see BASF and others mentioned in a history. And interesting to see that like coal, the agricultural revolution fathered by this process for fixing nitrogen has come back to bite us in perfect Malthusian fashion. I''d like to believe that the decline in worldwide fertility rates may counter the trend, but I suspect there will be many hiccups on the way down the road. At any rate, it''s good to know that our food is not fertilized by nor our boys being blown up by seabird or bat feces.
Helpful
Report
RPI Engineer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Entertaining Synopsis of the Quest to Feed the World
Reviewed in the United States on February 9, 2021
The author has meticulously weaved together a scientific and human interest anthology to inform the reader of one of the greatest discoveries of modern times which is also amongst our most devastating failures. Haber and Bosch collaborated to provide the world with... See more
The author has meticulously weaved together a scientific and human interest anthology to inform the reader of one of the greatest discoveries of modern times which is also amongst our most devastating failures. Haber and Bosch collaborated to provide the world with fertilizer that allowed crop yields to feed an ever increasing population but fueled the army of one its worst, maniacal despots. The story is told in an entertaining way while educating the average, non-scientific reader in the process.
Helpful
Report
derevo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Remarkable what a good writer can do
Reviewed in the United States on December 24, 2013
Let''s say you really want be the life of the party. How about mentioning that the last book you read was about the early twentieth century history on the industrial scale production of amonia and associated nitrogen compounds? Not likely? It might not make you... See more
Let''s say you really want be the life of the party. How about mentioning that the last book you read was about the early twentieth century history on the industrial scale production of amonia and associated nitrogen compounds? Not likely?

It might not make you the life of the party, but this book is a page turner. You won''t put it down. I''m not joking. It is a real "Faustian" tale of ambition, prejudice, ethnic chauvanism, scientific genius, megalomania, business acumen, warfare, suicide, and betrayal. At the same time, it''s the story about how the human race of almost 7 billion feeds itself with amonia; and how it killed off over 100 million people in the last century with the same substance. It''s about how a brilliant Jewish scientist, who discovered the means to feed the entire world, became the father of chemical warfare and developed the chemical that would later be used to exterminate millions of Jews. It''s about how another man created the basis for the entire modern chemical industry; and how his love of machines led him to build a city-sized machine which would be the industrial engine powering the Nazi state. It is about older Faustian bargains--of kidnapped Pacific peoples condemned to ''mining'' bat feces in the Equitorial sun to feed the world''s growing population. And it''s about modern bargains where manufactured nitrates used to put food on our tables have killed off entire oceans of life. It is about human kind at its very best; and its very worst.

It is a shame to me that industrial history is not taught more in the schools--this is far more relevant history than battles and treaties and the like. Industry has recreated the world--for good and for bad. This book gives us a glimpse into how that history is not the result of some invisible hand of inexorable progress; but is a direct result of the brliiance, struggles ambitions and choices of individuals whose lifetime work has forever shaped, and continues to shape, the world.
3 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Edith Best
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating look at history and the interplay of science with both benefit and harm to the planet
Reviewed in the United States on August 25, 2017
This book is excellent and engaging. The author gives us a glimpse into how science, business, and government work together to both greatly benefit and greatly harm humanity and the planet. They book is fascinating on so many levels that is really hard to begin to describe.... See more
This book is excellent and engaging. The author gives us a glimpse into how science, business, and government work together to both greatly benefit and greatly harm humanity and the planet. They book is fascinating on so many levels that is really hard to begin to describe. This is very well-researched, well written, and a book that you will not want to put down. I highly recommend it to any students of History, of Science, and of humanity''s often futile and frustrated search to better the world.
One person found this helpful
Helpful
Report

Top reviews from other countries

Liam Kelleher
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of greatest discoveries and stories in science, told in an entertaining way
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 11, 2020
I first came across parts of this story in Sam Keans excellent “Caesars Last Breath”. Thomas Hager tells the full depth of Fritz Habers “discovery” and Carl Bosch’s engineering prowess with fascinating detail and fluidity. We start with the Malthusian ideology - the world...See more
I first came across parts of this story in Sam Keans excellent “Caesars Last Breath”. Thomas Hager tells the full depth of Fritz Habers “discovery” and Carl Bosch’s engineering prowess with fascinating detail and fluidity. We start with the Malthusian ideology - the world doesn’t have enough land to sustain growing populations and famines were seen as an inevitably. Hence the growth of colonial empires seeking land for food and their peoples. The discovery of guano and the Chilean saltpetre is a well told introduction. What impressed me most about this book is the author is not afraid to shy away from some of the technical details, really shining a light on the continued improvements Carl Bosch made on the process engineering process and his team made in finding the best and cheapest catalyst for the process of ammonia production. Where the story becomes intertwined with history is just fascinating. BASF, a due company, has plenty of chlorine which Fritz Haber puts to ill use in the trenches of WW1. The company becomes a munitions manufacturer using the nitrates from the H-B process. After WW1, BASF merges with others in IG Farben, literally translating into “in the interest of dye companies”. Yet, it was Bosch and his interest in synfuels that provoked the next wave of Nazi interest, allowing it to be almost self sufficient in gasoline or Leunabenzein (for those interested in learning more about the oil industry, Hitlers obsession with oil and why he headed for Stalingrad and not Moscow, read “The Prize”). The personal lives of Haber and Bosch are well documented, intertwining with other scientific celebrities of the day such as Einstein and Planck. Habers struggles with German pride and his own Jewish past are well told as are Boschs personal conflict on increasing industrial prowess with his underlying disturbance at war and conflict. This is an impressive book, well researched on what just be one of the greatest - or at least important - stories in science. My only qualm is that is current worldly implications of artificial fertiliser are summarised rather hastily at the end, but for a 270 page book it packs plenty of weight at a good pace. A book that I will refer back to again and again.
Report
C.C. James
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Genuinely fascinating
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 23, 2021
This is spellbinding. So much on the history of human population growth that I doubt many know. Gloriously written and so wide ranging, you could say you’d read any number of different book topics, such is the breadth on offer. A treat in every sense.
Report
A. E. Comyns
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Alchemy of Air
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 14, 2009
The Alchemy of Air It is ironic that the man whose self-imposed mission to save Germany, economically and militarily, was a German Jew. He invented the process for fixing nitrogen which is still dominant in the chemical industry a century later. He invented poison gas. And...See more
The Alchemy of Air It is ironic that the man whose self-imposed mission to save Germany, economically and militarily, was a German Jew. He invented the process for fixing nitrogen which is still dominant in the chemical industry a century later. He invented poison gas. And he tried unsuccessfully to extract gold from seawater in order to pay his country''s reparations. The author of this biography of Fritz Haber (1868 - 1934) studiously avoids the use of all chemical terms and explanations which, as a chemist, I found irritating, but Hager writes so well that I found the book compulsive reading. Required reading for all students of the history of technology - and twentieth century European history generally. Readers who want the chemistry too should buy The World''s Greatest Fix: a History of Nitrogen and Agriculture by G.J. Leigh (1994). Alan E. Comyns
3 people found this helpful
Report
SNT
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Absolutely fascinating
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 21, 2020
The story of guano, and the tragic story of Fritz Haber all in on book. The history of man and nitrogen. Definitely worth a read.
Report
Jamie C.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very interesting read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 2, 2015
The pace of the book is reasonably fast, and gives a very interesting overview. The pace is complimented by the writing style, which is not too ornate. There is a decent balance between description of events and the authors interpretation and speculation (of motives, etc.)....See more
The pace of the book is reasonably fast, and gives a very interesting overview. The pace is complimented by the writing style, which is not too ornate. There is a decent balance between description of events and the authors interpretation and speculation (of motives, etc.). I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history of science; although, for those with more chemistry and/or engineering knowledge, this book does not explore those aspects of the story in any great depth, and as such may not satisfy those interests.
Report
See all reviews
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Explore similar books

Tags that will help you discover similar books. 16 tags
Results for: 
Where do clickable book tags come from?
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Pages with related products.

  • history of technology innovations
  • auto technology
  • the industrial revolution
  • father''s day gift books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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