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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets…

Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

by Sam Kean

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1255136,087 (4.4)18



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Showing 5 of 5
This is the sort of science book I truly enjoy! The author's subject is the atmosphere around us, which he traces almost from the beginning by a useful -- and entertaining -- series of vignettes that serve to liven the discussion. And the vignettes are widely diverse: a local 'character' who lived in the shadow of Mount St. Helens before its explosion, the controversial spontaneous combustion of a character in Dickens, the mob violence directed at Joseph Priestley, the conman who contributed to the introduction of anesthesia, Albert Einstein's quest to develop a refrigerator that would not contain noxious gases, etc., etc. (The section on nitrous oxide provoked some giggles -- which caused me to think that this is, in fact, one of the side effects of the gas itself!) The concluding sections, which dealt with how mankind has altered the atmosphere (not for the better) were quite sobering. -- Not sure how much of this will 'stick' in my memory bank, but I was engrossed in the journey! (The title stems from the author's contention that the possibility exists that we breathe in some of the same air molecules that Julius Caesar expelled at his assassination in 44 BC.) ( )
  David_of_PA | Jul 14, 2018 |
Sam Kean never fails to entertain and educate, all at the same time. This books explains the air we breath and how it came about and evolved into that(mostly) beautiful mass of gas that keeps us alive. Great stuff. As will all of Mr. Kean's other books, you absolutely MUST take the time to read "Note and Miscellanea" section in the back of the book! ( )
  hhornblower | Nov 8, 2017 |
**I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

In his latest book, Kean tackles air composition, illustrating the simplicity and the complexity behind each breath we take. Using a mixture of science explanations and historic anecdotes, Kean tells a relatable tale of air’s composition, writing in a style that is easy to understand, even for a non-science reader (myself included). In essence, he makes the science behind air very accessible. Kean breaks down the particles in the air that makes this narrative nonfiction at times very humorous, and at times very dismal.

What I especially enjoyed about this book was the combination of history with science – Kean lays out the science behind each particle, tells the story of its discovery, followed by any events or catastrophes that occurred related to the particle. The gentle flow of the narrative between history and science kept my interest. Illustrations throughout of the scientists and discoverers, along with patents and inventions and other photographs, enhanced the narrative.

Great choice for anyone looking for a narrative nonfiction look at science, or to anyone curious about the air. ( )
  librarybelle | Oct 22, 2017 |
We all get annoyed when someone doesn’t cover their mouth when they cough for fear that we will inhale whatever they are spewing into the air around us. But, according to Sam Kean, when we breathe, we not only inhale the air of those near us right now but, in fact, every breath we take connects us with the breath of everyone who has ever lived including, as the title of his latest book suggests, Caesar’s last breath. As it says on the cover blurb

[w]ith every breath, you literally inhale the history of the world

He takes us through, not only the science of the gases in the air around us but the history of the people who studied them including some of their wildly crazy experiments on animals and even themselves and, as usual, he makes it not only easily understood (well, at least most of it) by non-scientific types like me but he makes it fascinating, even fun, to read about… again, at least most of it – there is this one chapter, The Fallout of Fallout, that makes Stephen King look like a piker when it comes to horror. In it, Kean discusses the science and history of nuclear testing including the Manhattan Project as well as the effects of radiation poisoning. Fortunately or perhaps somewhat cunningly, he follows this with stories about what really happened in Roswell and the possibility of life on other planets – thank goodness because I read this chapter at the same time as Trump’s cliffhanger speech about N. Korea.

I’m guessing most non-science readers are thinking a book about gases sounds boring. But this is a Sam Kean book and if anyone could make gases not only interesting but entertaining, occasionally scary, frequently laugh-out loud funny, and, of course reader-friendly, it’s Sam Kean and in Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us, he does…a lot. If I learned a little bit about this amazing planet we live on along the way, hey, bonus.

Thanks to Little, Brown, and Company for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review ( )
  lostinalibrary | Oct 16, 2017 |
Good, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I have his previous books. Maybe those other topics – the elements, genetics, the human brain – are just more interesting to me than “gases.” “Air” is just such an … amorphous topic, and the organization here felt very random. As always, Kean tells the stories related to each gas in a lively, humorous way, and he skillfully connects the scientific ideas he's relating with historical incidents that illustrate their relevance. Air might not look like much, but it's powerful stuff. 3 ½ stars, rounded up to 4. ( )
  meandmybooks | Oct 3, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316381640, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 23 Jan 2017 07:33:39 -0500)

A round-the-globe journey through the periodic table explains how the air people breathe reflects the world's history, tracing the origins and ingredients of the atmosphere to explain air's role in reshaping continents, steering human progress, and powering revolutions.… (more)

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