Miste's Reviews > The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler

The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager
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May 05, 2011

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Read in April, 2011

Fascinating book about the two men who were instrumental in developing synthetic fertilzer. It was an interesting look at history and the real changes their invention/discovery has meant for human beings--both good and bad. It was amazing to me to learn so much I didn't know about how necessary nitrogen is to the food supply. Haber & Bosch discovered a way to pull N2 "out of the air" and change it into the ammonia that is necessary to make fertizer. This discovery has it's good side which is making it possible to grow enough food for the 6+billion people on the earth without which the author suggest we would be about 2billion short of being able to feed the world. The dark side of this discovery is this same stuff is also used in making explosives (think Oklahoma City bombing). The sad thing is that Haber was Jewish and the process he helped develop was also used to develop the gases that were used during the Holocaust to eliminate millions of his fellow Jews (among other terrible war related uses in both WWW2 and WWW1). The most recent discovered downside has been the ocean "dead zones" created by the fertilzer draining into the rivers which feed into the oceans. It's a quandary that doesn't have an easy answer--feeding the masses, but at what cost??

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