Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us (Hardcover)
"Rife with human interest stories and wonderful asides, Kean packs this book full of information but manages not to make it feel like you're sitting through a lecture." - Haley, Book Culture Selects letter, New and Noteworthy Non-Fiction hardcover, September 2017— From Book Culture Selects September Picks
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.
About the Author
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."
Praise for Caesar's Last Breath
"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."—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive
"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."—Mark Kurlansky, author of Paper and Salt
"In Caesar's Last Breath, [Kean] takes on the science of gases in his trademark effervescent, loopy style.... a lively, rewarding journey through the evolution of Earth's gaseous atmosphere."—Shelf Awareness
"[Caesar's Last Breath] brims with such fascinating tales of chemical history that it'll change the very way you think about breathing.... Kean crams the book full of wild yarns told with humorously dramatic flair.... The effect is oddly intimate, the way all good storytelling is -- you feel like you're sharing moments of geeky amusement with a particularly hip chemistry teacher."—Chelsea Leu, San Francisco Chronicle
"Delightful.... Mixes science and history.... pointing out that something that as basic as air is much more complicated than you might realize."—Sarah Sloat, Inverse
"There is no denying the pleasure and indeed the wealth of scientific information to be obtained from reading Caesar's Last Breath."—Financial Times
Praise for The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons:
Longlisted for the 2015 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
One of Amazon's Best Books of the Year: Science
One of The A.V. Club's Best Books of 2014
A Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist: Nonfiction
"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."—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist
"Put your Netflix queue on hold. Sam Kean's The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons will command your full attention from the first page. It's not just an engaging guide to mysteries of existence; it's compelling story-telling for anyone with a taste for the bizarre and metaphysical."—William Poundstone, author of Rock Breaks Scissors
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—-