• The Alchemy of Air

  • A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler
  • By: Thomas Hager
  • Narrated by: Adam Verner
  • Length: 10 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 10-12-10
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 (1,040 ratings)
  • Whispersync for Voice-ready

Regular price: $24.95

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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the discovery that changed billions of lives - including your own.
At the dawn of the 20th century, humanity was facing global disaster. Mass starvation, long predicted for the fast-growing population, 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 enormously gifted, fatally flawed men who found it: the brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and the reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch.
Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, controlled world markets, and saved millions of lives. Their invention continues to feed us today; without it, more than two billion people would starve.
But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and high explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically. Today we face the other unintended consequences of their discovery - massive nitrogen pollution and a growing pandemic of obesity.
The Alchemy of Air is the extraordinary, previously untold story of two master scientists who saved the world only to lose everything and of the unforseen results of a discovery that continue to shape our lives in the most fundamental and dramatic of ways.
©2008 Thomas Hager (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
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Critic Reviews

"This scientific adventure spans two world wars and every cell in your body." ( Discover magazine)
“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)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By sarah on 07-31-11


Although only a third of the way through this book I wanted to add my review to the mix since there are currently only 2 reviews. I vociferously disagree with the claim that the bird dung content was boring. The details included in the narrative illustrate the basis for the value of nitrogen as a fertilizer and therefore the justification for searching to create a synthetic product. I am so far riveted by this book. Will update my review after completing the read.

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25 of 26 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Terry A. Gray on 10-21-11

Great Book Thoroughly Researched

This is one of the best audio books I have listened to in a long time, and I listen lots. It is the story of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, and there collaboration on the Haber-Bosch process for creating fixed nitrogen using ultra high pressure chemistry in specially engineered Haber-Bosch machines. Haber was the scientist who discovered the process for making ammonia from nitrogen, hydrogen, and various catalysts while heating them under very high pressures. Bosch is the one who solved the practical engineering difficulties and build the original Haber-Bosch machines for the German chemical giant BASF. Both men are fascinating. Haber was the extrovert, the Jew who for social purposes converted to Christianity (which is an important element in the story once Hitler came to power), the scientist who signed the agreement with BASF and then went on to direct the famed Kaiser Wilhelm institute during WWI and thereafter, even spearheading poison gas efforts. Bosch was the metallurgist and mechanic who took Haber's process and brought it to large scale production. Literally, 5/7 of the world's population would not now be alive if it had not been for the process, which made fixed nitrogen fertilizers cheap and widely available, replacing the old guano or naturally occurring Chile nitrates as the fertilizer of choice around the world. The story does not end with nitrogen chemistry, however. Bosch rose to head BASF, and later I. G. Farben, the German chemical giant, and pursued synthetic gasoline as his next great project.

The book explains the technical processes, which I found fascinating, the history of nitrate fertilizers--far more interesting than you can imagine--and German history as they impinged on the lives of Haber and Bosch. Both men display greatness, even hubris, and essential flaws. Their reactions to the Hitler regime are their personal crucibles, but their lives are fascinating in what they managed to accomplish. A really great audio book even though the subject seems unlikely.

I cannot say the same for the quality of the performance. It is adequate, but uninspired.Several words are annoyingly mispronounced--like the word "solder," for example, pronounced with a long o--a sure sign that the reader was unfamiliar with the subject--but don't let this criticism dissuade you from listening to this fine book. It's a 3-star performance of a 5-star book.

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20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Kuba on 07-16-16

Hit story, miss narration

What a great book, I've been meaning to read it for over a year now. I wasn't disappointed with the story, an amazing peek into history from a fresh angle that we don't really learn about in any other platform. HOWEVER! Adam Verner's voice was really a problem, I am a sound engineer myself so I do understand the studio process, the voice sounds very much robotic, as if it has auto tune running on it (!?) at the beginning of the book I was actually under the impression that it was being narrated by speach software, it took a while to realise that it was actually an actor. Having gone so far as to look at Mr. Verner's website, he is actually a great voice actor, so either the processing on the voice was extremely heavy or Adam just missed the plot on this particular performance. It really made the listening experience less pleasant than it should have been. Having said that, I would still get the book, regardless. The story is really strong enough to deal with the voice. and frankly, I'm most probably going to listen to it again another couple times to get all the details memorized.

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2 out of 5 stars
By KäufR on 01-21-16

Strange narration

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

I was convinced at the start that this was the result of automated text-to-speech software, but apparently the narrator is a real human. The intonation and cadence is most strange - I am surprised that a professional 'voice talent' can make a career sounding like a robot. The pronunciation of German names and words (quite a few in this book) were also very unlike the correct versions - a little homework goes a long way.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Adam Verner?

A human.

You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The story is fascinating, if a little heavy in detail. I mostly enjoyed the book and have learnt a lot from this well-researched history.

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