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Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us
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Little, Brown and Company 2017
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Description

The Guardian's Best Science Book of 2017: 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.

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
07/18/2017
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780316381635
ASIN:
B01M7ZWWYP

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Citations

APA Citation (style guide)

Sam Kean. (2017). Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. Little, Brown and Company.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Sam Kean. 2017. Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. Little, Brown and Company.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Sam Kean, Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Sam Kean. Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.

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      • bioText: Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of Caesar's Last Breath, 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 Literary Science Writing Award in 2013 and 2015, as well as the AAAS/Subaru SB&F prize.
        His work has appeared in the Best American Nature and Science Writing, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, 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."
      • name: Sam Kean
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Caesar's Last Breath
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The Guardian's Best Science Book of 2017: 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.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive
      • content: Sam Kean has done it again - this time clearly and entertainingly explaining the science of the air around us. He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for finding the magic hidden in the everyday.
      • premium: False
      • source: Mark Kurlansky, author of Paper and Salt
      • content: The most fun to be had from nonfiction is a good science book, with a writer of craft who can capture both the excitement and the elegance of science, the incredible fact that this is really how it works. Sam Kean is such a writer and Caesar's Last Breath is such a book. An enormous pleasure to read.
      • premium: False
      • source: Col. Chris Hadfield, author of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
      • content: Fascinating stories, so insightful, informative, and disarmingly written. It gave this astronaut a new respect for the air around us all, and made me delightfully more aware of each breath I take.
      • premium: False
      • source: Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist
      • content: A witty book that turns the science of the stuff we breathe into a delightful romp through history. Kean, an award-winning science writer... has done it again, using his free-wheeling style to translate hard scientific facts into lively stories.
      • premium: False
      • source: William Poundstone, author of Rock Breaks Scissors
      • content: This is Sam Kean's finest work yet, an entertaining and offbeat history of the brain populated with mad scientists, deranged criminals, geniuses, and wretched souls. The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is one of those books that will have you following your friends around, reading passages out loud, until they snatch the book away from you and read it for themselves. Good luck getting it back.
      • premium: False
      • source: Praise for The Violinist's Thumb:

        Named one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2012; one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year; and a Publishers Weekly Editors Pick
      • content: In tale after tale, best-selling author Kean provides a fascinating, and at times gloriously gory, look at how early efforts in neurosurgery were essentially a medical guessing game.... Entertaining and quotable, Kean's writing is sharp, and each individual story brings the history of neuroscience to life. Compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun.
      • premium: False
      • source: Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly
      • content: Praise for The Violinist's Thumb:

        Named one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2012; one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year; and a Publishers Weekly Editors Pick
      • premium: False
      • source: Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
      • content: Kean's accessible genetic overview, written for the layman, is often as simple and elegant as a double helix.
      • premium: False
      • source: Susannah Cahalan, New York Post
      • content: Kean is one of America's smartest and most charming science writers, and his new book could be perfect for summer readers who prefer some substance with their fun.
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        May 15, 2017
        Kean (The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons) pumps chemical and historical trivia into this tale about air and the gases of which it is composed. His style ranges from buoyant to jittery and he bounces ideas around as though they were ping-pong balls. Math buffs may enjoy determining how many calories it takes to vaporize a human body or how many oxygen molecules a human needs every 24 hours; other readers will content themselves with trying to decipher the chemical breakdown of their next breath. The air in that breath, Kean points out, is nearly as old as the Earth and includes not only traces of Caesar’s last exhalation but traces of every gas-emitting being or thing on the planet—including volcanoes, bombs, farms, and restaurant kitchens. While discussing the gases of which air is composed, Kean describes many relevant engineering feats, such as the steam engine, synthetic fertilizer, anesthesia, dynamite, steel production, the hot-air balloon, and more. He provides historical vignettes about such phenomena as spontaneous combustion and the first bank robbery done via blowtorch. Kean also considers how the relationship between humans and air has changed in the era of nuclear power, refrigeration, space exploration, and global warming. The result is a hodgepodge of ephemera that is lightweight and entertaining. Agent: Rick Broadhead, Rick Broadhead & Assoc.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        May 15, 2017
        A witty book that turns the science of the stuff we breathe into a delightful romp through history.Kean (The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, 2014, etc.), an award-winning science writer whose previous books may have sounded off the wall but tackled serious subjects, has done it again, using his free-wheeling style to translate hard scientific facts into lively stories. He divides the narrative into three sections, the first of which examines the origins of the air on our planet. Here, we learn about the contribution of volcanic eruptions, including a diverting piece on one unfortunately stubborn resident of Mount Saint Helens, the eruption of which served as "the greatest geology lesson in American history." In the second section, Kean takes up the various components of air, starting with the major one, nitrogen, and concluding with the much rarer helium and the noble gases. Here, each chapter explores how human beings have exploited the different gases, which gives the author the opportunity to tell more entertaining stories, including ones about anesthesia and ballooning. In the third section, Kean takes a look at recent changes in the composition of our air and at the significance of the atmospheres of other planets. Of special interest, however, are the interspersed sections called "Interludes," in which the author tells related human interest anecdotes--e.g., an exploding lake in Cambodia, a failed bank robbery in Germany, spontaneous combustion of humans, and the special talents of Le Petomane, a highly paid "fartiste" at the Moulin Rouge. Kean cannot resist sharing other gems he uncovered in his research, and readers will appreciate them. For these, see the back-of-the-book section, "Notes and Miscellanea." Some are priceless. Great fun for general readers curious about our world and an especially appropriate gift for a young person considering a career in the sciences.

        COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        February 15, 2017

        As New York Times best-selling science writer Kean explains, the air around us, which we so cheerfully take for granted, has quite a history. Of the sextillions of air molecules you breathe in while reading this sentence, some may have been breathed out by a dying Julius Caesar or by dinosaurs eons ago. What's air made of, and how did it all start? With a 75,000-copy first printing.

        Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        June 1, 2017
        At the beginning of best-selling Kean's (The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons, 2014) exploration of the intricacies of air, he asks readers to consider the fanciful but strong likelihood that everyone now living is inhaling traces of Julius Caesar's last breath, expelled when his assassins administered the fatal knife blow more than 2,000 years ago. In fact, given the endlessly circulatory nature of our atmosphere and the trillions of molecules comprising it, our lungs are also filtering microscopic particles of everything from dinosaur exhalations to the CO2 currently heating up the planet. Yet these startling truths are just a warm-up for the author's comprehensive study of all the gases that keep us alive, including not only breathable oxygen but also the more toxic varieties that paradoxically nurtured Earth's first life-forms. In three richly informative sections, the author describes early prehuman atmospheres, reviews mankind's use of gases to advance civilization, and looks at how air chemistry has changed in the last few hundred years. Once again, Kean proves his mettle as one of science literature's most gifted practitioners.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 1, 2017

        Kean (The Disappearing Spoon), purveyor of narrative popular science, grasps at the chemical makeup of what we breathe. Divided into three sections--how our atmosphere came to be, how gases have shaped humanity, and how humans have harnessed gases over time--this book opens with the riveting and macabre story of the 1980 eruption of Washington State's Mount St. Helens, whose volcanic heat vaporized a curmudgeonly innkeeper who refused to evacuate. Kean also profiles the German chemists whose discovery of ammonia led to World War I's devastating chemical warfare and the lifesaving development of gaseous anesthetics for surgeries, and--no joke--a 19th-century French "fartiste" with a prodigious ability to produce musical flatulence. Kean has a knack for distilling chemistry to its essential elements, using stories and humor to soften a subject that might otherwise trigger unpleasant flashbacks to high school lab class. VERDICT For anyone interested in the invisible forces that sustain life, this is a dose of fresh air. [Prepub Alert, 1/23/17.]--Chad Comello, Morton Grove P.L., IL

        Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Guardian's Best Science Book of 2017: 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...
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