Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution (Great Discoveries Series)

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Thanks to his prodigious intellectual gifts and aided by his self-made fortune and his accomplished wife, Antoine Lavoisier was at the center of the scientific world of the late eighteenth century. It was from that vantage point that he participated in the race to uncover the chemical processes involved in combustion. Observed by the international scientific community, Lavoisier and his chief rival, Joseph Priestley of England, both discovered oxygen in the process of their work. But Lavoisier's theory of how chemical reactions work, supported by cutting-edge experiments on state-of-the-art equipment, swept away the last vestiges of medieval alchemy and ushered in the modern science of chemistry. Lavoisier's treatise establishing this new science was published just four months before the fall of the Bastille.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Novelist Madison Smartt Bell has penned the nearly unbelievable story of a man who exemplified an age, then died at its hands. The son of a wealthy Parisian family, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-94) embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment. A prominent leader in the burgeoning international scientific community, he almost single-handedly created the chemical revolution that helped define modern science. A political liberal as well as a scientific revolutionary, he supported the French Revolution and served in the new government. But his record could not protect from the ravages of the Terror, and he was guillotined in May 1794, prompting one observer to note, "A moment was all that was necessary in which to strike off this head, and probably a hundred years will not be sufficient to produce another like it."
Publishers Weekly
Novelist Bell (The Stone That the Builder Refused, etc.) knows a good story when he sees it: the life of French scientist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is full of suspense and intrigue set against a backdrop of war and revolution. Lavoisier, best known for having "discovered" oxygen, was arguably one of the most brilliant scientific minds of the Enlightenment, helping to lay the foundation for our modern understanding of chemistry. He was also a wise investor, amassing a substantial personal fortune by buying into the privatized French tax system-which eventually placed him on the wrong side of the French Revolution and at the foot of the guillotine. This account works best as the story of a well-intentioned and honorable man caught up in events beyond the comprehension of his formidable intellect, and Bell uses his novelistic skills in the service of narrative and character to keep Lavoisier's story fresh. When Bell detours into the history of chemistry, the writing drags. This solid if uneven book will appeal most to readers interested in the vibrant life and tragic death of a key figure in the history of science. 8 illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Jane Gelfman. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Antoine Lavoisier is often credited as the founder of modern chemistry. Born into a French middle-class family in 1742, formally educated in law, but intensely interested in science, he held several government positions and, naturally, was involved with the French Academy of Science. Tragically, at the peak of his scientific powers, Lavoisier became a victim of the Reign of Terror when his government activities led to his beheading in 1794. Turning from the Haitian slave rebellion depicted in his trilogy of novels (All Souls' Rising, Master of the Crossroads, The Stone That the Builder Refused), Bell addresses the French Revolution (which inspired the rebellion) and Lavoisier's role in his first major work of nonfiction. Bell does an admirable job of interlinking all the complexities of Lavoisier's life and circumstances as they collided with a social and political revolution that had gone out of control. He also paints an excellent portrait of 18th-century scientific culture, with its national and individual rivalries. This book will appeal to readers interested in the history of science and the French Revolution. Recommended for high school and public libraries as well as general academic collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/05.]-Margaret F. Dominy, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Bell succeeds, not only in depicting the rigorousness of Lavoisier’s method, but also in conveying a sense of his character, as revealed most affectingly by the quietly heroic composure with which he faced his own death.— Merle Rubin
New York Times Book Review
A two-part thriller. The first describes Lavoisier’s successful effort to win the race to explain how chemical processes work; the second, his pursuit by French revolutionaries.— Jacob Heilbrunn
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393051551
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/17/2005
  • Series: Great Discoveries Series
  • Pages: 214
  • Sales rank: 1,248,521
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Madison Smartt  Bell

Madison Smartt Bell is the author of twelve novels, his most recent being The Stone That the Builder Refused. He teaches at Goucher College and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Best known for an acclaimed trilogy of novels which chart the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803 (All Souls Rising; Master of the Crossroads; and The Stone That The Builder Refused), Madison Smartt Bell was born and raised in Nashville, TN, and educated at Princeton University and Hollins College. In addition to fiction that ranges from historical novels to short stories to dark psychological thrillers, he has written biographies (one of pioneering chemist Antoine Lavoisier and another of Haitian leader Toussaint L'Ouverture) and Charm City, an idiosyncratic guided tour of Baltimore, where he lives with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Johns Hopkins University and currently directs the Creative Writing program at Goucher College. In 1996, Bell was chosen by the British literary magazine Granta as one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists. He is also an accomplished songwriter and musician.

Good To Know

"Two of my longterm pastimes are martial arts and music. I think this item of fact should make the characters I've written who practice both more plausible. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for 20 years until my knees stopped cooperating. Since then I've been doing Tae Chi -- great for concentration, meditation, clearing the head and restoring the energy, as well as being easier on the joints for anyone over 40. I've played various fretted instruments since I was 11, most recently electric guitar. Anything Goes, my most recent book, is a novel about a year in the live of a traveling cover band. It features a few original tunes cowritten by me and Wyn Cooper."

"Since 1996 I've been importing a few paintings from the Cap Haitien area of Haiti, as a benefit for painters there who suffer from the sharp decline of tourism. and some of these paintings can be seen at"

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nashville, Tennessee
    1. Education:
      A.B. in English, Princeton University, 1979; M.A. in English and creative writing, Hollins College, 1981
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

I Ancien regime 1
II Out of alchemy 34
III Le principe oxygine 63
IV The chemical revolution 119
V The end of the year one 151
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