- Audio CD
- Publisher: Blackstone Pub; Unabridged edition (18 July 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1478950498
- ISBN-13: 978-1478950493
- Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 3.2 x 15.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us; Library Edition Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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Narrator Ben Sullivan makes the stories of scientists like James Watt, Joseph Priestley, and Alfred Nobel entertaining, reading with humor, humanity, and drama. Whether it's the twisted story of laughing gas, with its permutations as a hallucinogen and an anesthetic, or the horrible use of chlorine gas in WWI, there's always a human angle linked to gases. Even listeners who get nothing from the mathematics of molecules will be fascinated by the history recounted and the people who lived it. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.-- "AudioFile"
Compelling stuff, written with verve and in a style that veers between simple lightheartedness and open jocularity... Eminently accessible and enjoyable.-- "Guardian (London)"
Entertaining...with sly wit and boyish wonder.-- "Discover magazine"
Kean's ability to explain with clear, vivid analogies provides diverse readers access to previously remote scientific concepts.-- "Science Magazine"
Kean crams the book full of wild yarns told with humorously dramatic flair.-- "San Francisco Chronicle"
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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 Award for literary science writing in 2013 and 2015, as well as the AAAS/Subaru Prize. Kean's work has appeared in The Best American Nature and Science Writing, the Atlantic Monthly, 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.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
As the title will suggest to the careful reader, the central conceit in Kean's book is that "roughly one particle of [the last breath Julius Caesar took after he was stabbed] will appear in your next breath." Apparently, this "how-many-molecules-in-X's-last-breath exercise has become a classic thought experiment in physics and chemistry courses." Not in mine, though. I don't remember much about those courses, but I'm sure I would've remembered that.
In Caesar's Last Breath, Kean will take you on a fast ride through the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth's atmosphere and then through the more than one hundred different gases that comprise the atmosphere today. Yes, more than one hundred. Individual chapters—and "interludes" placed between them—tell tales about each of the major substances. Everybody knows about nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. But there's also carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxide (N2O, known as laughing gas), methanethiol (CH3SH), and all manner of others. However, this is no mind-numbing laundry list of unfamiliar substances. Kean uses each one as a lever into the history of atmospheric science. And along the way he strays—delightfully—into topics that may be only tangentially related to the air we breathe.
In fact, Caesar's Last Breath is as much about the scientists, famous and not, whose discoveries over the centuries have helped us understand the nature and the effects of each of the major gases in our atmosphere. If you're at all familiar with the history of science, you'll recognize the names Fritz Haber, Joseph Priestley, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Robert Boyle, Henry Cavendish, Humphry Davy, and so many others who have made the world around us easier to understand. Don't think for a minute, though, that Kean simply offers up the usual dry recitation of each scientist's discovery and how he made it. No. Instead, the author tells us things we never knew, or at least things that I never knew, about these fascinating people.
For example, Henry Cavendish, the man who discovered hydrogen, was autistic and "communicated with his domestic staff via notes." He was also filthy rich. "During his lifetime, Cavendish had more money in the Bank of England than any other British subject." Joseph Priestley, the co-discoverer of oxygen, was a Protestant minister whose investigations prompted a mob in Birmingham to burn down his church and his home, hoping (without success) to see him burn inside it. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, who tried to take sole credit for the discovery of oxygen, was an aristocrat who went to his death on the guillotine in the French Revolution. Lavoisier had been a rapacious tax-collector, and if anybody deserved such a fate, he probably did. And Albert Einstein teamed up with fellow nuclear physicist Leo Szilard to invent a better refrigerator. (They actually invented several and made a pile of money from them.) You'll also meet people whose names you're highly unlikely to know but will probably never forget, including the man who proved why the sky is blue, "the worst poet who ever lived," and Le Pétomaine (the Fartomaniac), who became the highest-paid performer in France for his wildly popular act in which he sang and did impressions by passing gas.
Caesar's Last Breath is full of fascinating and sometimes hilarious sidelights such as these. For example, did you know that "[B]efore 1850 people routinely committed suicide rather than face surgery?" (I didn't, and I've read a bit about the history of medicine.) It was only in the mid-19th century that anesthetics—first nitrous oxide, then ether, and finally chloroform—finally started coming into use.
Sam Kean's writing style is informal, to say the least. (I don't think I've ever seen the word "catookus" in print anywhere else.) You can easily imagine him talking to you and laughing pretty much half the time. Given the aridity of so much of typical science histories, Caesar's Last Breath is a delight.
I cannot say Mr. Kean has done it again, because all of his explorations have revealed ever expanding powers of expression, and the development of his unique voice; a more personal, and refined lens through which we can view this magnificent place called life.
If Sam Kean is new to you, inhale Caesar’s Breath, and then rush back to the adventure of The Violinist Thumb, the mystery of The Disappearing Spoon, and the mind bending enjoyment of Dueling Neurosurgeons. If you have been there already, go back and start over. There is more every time you read this important author.
A galaxy of stars for this great addition to human understanding.
I am already looking forward to his next book.
What about the title? Do we in fact have any experience with Caesar’s last breath? According to Kean, there is a significant chance that we do. Since there are a bazillion molecules in each breath we take and those molecules become diffusely distributed over the globe with time, there is a good probability that a few of the molecules in Caesar’s final exhalation are lingering close by. Every breath you take has in it the history of the atmosphere which we share with all those past, present and future.
The book will give you a clearer understanding of the air that is our home which we breath and live in and make you realize that we haven’t been especially good at keeping it clean.