There are good reasons for writing this book with the simple title of C, which is the first and unauthorised biography of carbon, life's central element.
Most of the life processes within and around us involve carbon in one form or another. Carbon in pure form can be both graphite in a pencil, and diamond. It is also the starting point for most of the synthetic materials which pervade modern life. However, the essence of Dag O. Hessen's story is the lifecycle of carbon, the important balance between photosynthesis and cellular respiration, between building and burning.
This book gives us the basis we need for that understanding. It is an informal, well-informed book written with strong personal commitment by one of Norway's best presenters of research and science.
This is a brilliant and deep journey into the science, history, and indeed the morality of the Periodic Table’s sixth element, carbon. An accomplished scientist and a masterful storyteller, Dag Hessen takes us from the elegance of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the putrescence of cow flatulence, explaining the science behind carbon’s connection to our bodies (we are 40% C, once water is removed) and to our future given its ongoing impact on global climate. Hessen has a particular knack for explaining chemical concepts clearly and illustrating chemical transformations, all while weaving seamlessly between the physics at atoms, the geology of Earth’s crust, and the biology of organic molecules. Readers will enjoy the journey while also gaining some philosophical and ethical perspective on the tradeoffs and complexities that are involved as humanity struggles to decarbonize. Carbon – you thought you knew it? Think again and read this book.
Jim Elser, Bierman Professor of Ecology, University of Montana
The literary technique is distinctly original … Dag O. Hessen succeeds in creating a piece of accessible literature on the border between science and politics.
The Carbon could probably not get at better biographer than this. Dag Hessen is one of the very best communicators of science, and Carbon is his specialty. He writes impressively easy and well, about a somewhat complicated topic. Even someone who did not quite pay attention during science classes in school can follow his reasoning.
The tone in the book is charming, and at times Hessen is downright funny – I had never believed that I would laugh out loud because of a book about Carbon! C both broadens the knowledge and awareness about the great dance of life that we all are part of – and it scratches the surface of my bad conscience. It is good for all of us to fell a little bit bad to become a little bit better.
Rights sold to: ARGENTINA (Ediciones Godot), GREAT BRITAIN (Reaktion Books Ltd.)
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