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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.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|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
Notes and Miscellanea 329
Works Cited 357
What People are Saying About This
“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.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very fun read