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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
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.
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"