(p. C7) . . . , Mr. Kean’s narrative of scientific discovery jumps back and forth. The first episode narrated in detail is Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch’s conversion of nitrogen into ammonia, the crucial step in producing artificial fertilizer, which Mr. Kean characterizes as “an inflection point in history” that in the 20th century “transformed the very air into bread.” The process consumes 1% of the global energy supply, producing 175 million tons of ammonia fertilizer a year and generating half the world’s food. Haber and Bosch both won Nobel Prizes but were subsequently tainted by their involvement in developing chlorine gas for the German military.
The book’s middle section turns back the clock to steam power, the technology that launched the Industrial Revolution. James Watt was its master craftsman, though Mr. Kean confesses that, as “a sucker for mechanical simplicity,” he regards Watt’s pioneering engine, with its separate condenser, as “a bunch of crap cobbled together.” A more elegant application of gases was Henry Bessemer’s process for making steel, which used blasts of compressed air to make obsolete the laborious and energy-hungry mixing of liquid cast iron and carbon.
For the full review, see:
Mike Jay. “Adventures in the Atmosphere.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Kean, Sam. Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.