338 pages, B/w photos, illus, figs, tabs, maps
Originally conceived as a biography of Haber and Bosch (the German chemists who pioneered the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia on an industrial scale), this incisive and controversial book is in fact a study of the effects of their research on world food production - 150 million tonnes of ammonia are produced annually, most of which goes into making fertiliser. Smil argues that we should see the Haber-Bosch breakthrough as 'chemical bounty' that has made a huge contribution to human welfare since 1945. 'The greatest catastrophe that the human race could face this century is not global warming but a global conversion to 'organic' farming - an estimated 2 billion people would perish. That is the underlying message of this remarkable book, which charts the discovery of nitrogen fixation - the conversion of unusuable atmospheric nitrogen to useful ammonia - and its impact on the world's food supply.' John Emsley, Nature
This is a wonderful book, highly readable and replete with referenced data. - John Emsley, Nature; "Broad and imaginative, meticulously argued and fully documented, yet lively and readable, this surprising book...opens a door wide to a dimly lit corner of high-tech, to offer us a new understanding of a major change." - Philip and Phylis Morrison, American Scientist; "A very welcome contribution to the interdisciplinary field of environmental studies." - Juan Ilerbaig, The Quarterly Review of Biology"
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Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba and the author of many books, including Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties (2005), Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems (2007), Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years (2008), and Why America Is Not a New Rome (2010), all published by the MIT Press. He was awarded the 2007 Olivia Schieffelin Nordberg Award for excellence in writing and editing in the population sciences.