Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

by Sam Kean


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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

The Guardian's Best Science Book of 2017

One of Science News's Favorite Science Books of 2017

The fascinating science and history of the air we breathe

It's invisible. It's ever-present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell.

In Caesar's Last Breath, New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it.

With every breath, you literally inhale the history of the world. On the ides of March, 44 BC, Julius Caesar died of stab wounds on the Senate floor, but the story of his last breath is still unfolding; in fact, you're probably inhaling some of it now. Of the sextillions of molecules entering or leaving your lungs at this moment, some might well bear traces of Cleopatra's perfumes, German mustard gas, particles exhaled by dinosaurs or emitted by atomic bombs, even remnants of stardust from the universe's creation.

Tracing the origins and ingredients of our atmosphere, Kean reveals how the alchemy of air reshaped our continents, steered human progress, powered revolutions, and continues to influence everything we do. Along the way, we'll swim with radioactive pigs, witness the most important chemical reactions humans have discovered, and join the crowd at the Moulin Rouge for some of the crudest performance art of all time. Lively, witty, and filled with the astounding science of ordinary life, Caesar's Last Breath illuminates the science stories swirling around us every second.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316381642
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 07/18/2017
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 162,178
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, The Disappearing Spoon, and The Violinist's Thumb, all of which were also named Amazon top science books of the year. The Disappearing Spoon was a runner-up for the Royal Society of London's book of the year for 2010, and The Violinist's Thumb and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons were nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2013 and 2015, as well as the AAAS/Subaru SB&F prize. His work has appeared in The Best American Nature and Science Writing, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, Slate, Mental Floss, and other publications, and he has been featured on NPR's "Radiolab," "All Things Considered," and "Fresh Air."

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Last Breath 3

I Making Air: Our First Four Atmospheres

Chapter 1 Earth's Early Air 17

Interlude: The Exploding Lake 43

Chapter 2 The Devil in the Air 49

Interlude: Welding a Dangerous Weapon 75

Chapter 3 The Curse and Blessing of Oxygen 81

Interlude: Hotter than the Dickens 111

II Harnessing Air: The Human Relationship with Air

Chapter 4 The Wonder-Working Gas of Delight 121

Interlude: Le Pétomane 151

Chapter 5 Controlled Chaos 158

Interlude: Steeling Yourself for Tragedy 185

Chapter 6 Into the Blue 196

Interlude: Night Lights 223

III Frontiers: The New Heavens

Chapter 7 The Fallout of Fallout 231

Interlude: Albert Einstein and the People's Fridge 259

Chapter 8 Weather Wars 268

Interlude: Rumbles from Roswell 293

Chapter 9 Putting on Alien Airs 304

Acknowledgments 327

Notes and Miscellanea 329

Works Cited 357

Index 363

What People are Saying About This

Author of Paper and Salt - Mark Kurlansky

“The most fun to be had from nonfiction is a good science book, with a writer of craft who can capture both the excitement and the elegance of science, the incredible fact that this is really how it works. Sam Kean is such a writer and Caesar’s Last Breath is such a book. An enormous pleasure to read.”

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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very fun read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago