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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets…
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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us (2017)

by Sam Kean

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191795,073 (4.28)23
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. "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, ... 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."--Jacket.… (more)

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In Caesar’s Last Breath, Sam Kean looks at the air around us. Each chapter discusses a component of air: oxygen, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, argon, and other cases. The longer chapters are surrounded by shorter interludes about other gases and compounds. It’s written in a highly conversational writing style, with a near-constant stream of asides. I enjoy this style but even I found some of it a bit much. That said, though, I really liked the book overall. It’s studded with interesting trivia tidbits, and the chapter about farts had me rolling on the floor laughing, because I am secretly four. I’d recommend this if you like popular books about chemistry or if you’ve read any of Kean’s other books. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jul 11, 2019 |
Another excellent, whimsical and poetic example of popular science about the everyday. I loved The Disappearing Spoon, and while I didnt find this quite as absorbing, it was still a mesmerising tour de force. Keon starts by telling us that everytime we breath a few molecules of the last breath Caesar took after Brutus finished him off enters our lungs, from this he leads on to analyse every element that makes up the air we breathe, and the often weird sometimes humourous stories of how each element was discovered and its impact on human history. Keon is among the best popular science writers around today and this book is a must-read for all his fans. Highly recommended. ( )
  drmaf | Jan 30, 2019 |
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.) ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote librarybelle | Oct 22, 2017 |
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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wildflower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
     - William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"
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Indulge me in a modest experiment.
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