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Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean Review

Title: Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

Author: Sam Kean

First published July 18, 2017

384 pages, Hardcover

ISBN: 9780316381642 (ISBN10: 0316381640)

Rating: 4.24


In Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us, Sam Kean expertly uncovers the incredible journey of the air we breathe. It’s a tale of epic proportions that spans the periodic table, the globe, and time itself.

As we take in each breath, we inhale the history of our world, from Cleopatra’s perfumes to the remnants of stardust created during the universe’s birth. Kean masterfully reveals the origins and ingredients of our atmosphere, showing how it has shaped our continents, powered revolutions, and influenced human progress.

Along the way, we’ll explore the most important chemical reactions humans have discovered, witness the power of the alchemy of air, and even join the crowd at the Moulin Rouge for some of the world’s crudest performance art. With a lively, witty tone and filled with astounding science, Caesar’s Last Breath illuminates the invisible stories of the air around us.

About the Author

Meet Sam Kean, a talented writer based in Washington, D.C. His impressive portfolio includes work featured in The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Mental Floss, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist. Currently, he is working as a reporter at Science magazine and is a 2009 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.

Aside from his professional accomplishments, Sam is known for being called Sean at least once a month. He spent his formative years in South Dakota, which holds a special place in his heart.

Although he reads quickly, he tends to eat at a leisurely pace. He pursued a dual major in physics and English during his college years in Minnesota.

Following graduation, he taught at an experimental charter school in St. Paul where the students attended classes at night. After an unsuccessful attempt to move to Spain, he eventually settled in Washington, D.C. and earned a master’s degree in library science, which he may never use.

Although he doesn’t have a particular sports team to root for, he is passionate about track and field.

Editoral Review

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean, is a brilliant work that delves into the fascinating history and science of something we take for granted every day: the air we breathe. Kean is an accomplished science writer, whose previous books, The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinists Thumb, both received critical acclaim.

This latest offering from Kean is an engaging and eye-opening exploration of the air around us. The book begins with a vivid account of Julius Caesar’s last breath, as he gasped for air after being assassinated by his own senators.

From there, Kean takes the reader on a journey through the history of the air we breathe, exploring the contributions of scientists, inventors, and philosophers from across the centuries. He also delves into the chemistry and physics that underpin our understanding of the air, discussing everything from the composition of the atmosphere to the phenomenon of air pollution.

Kean’s writing style is engaging and accessible, even for those who may not have a scientific background. He weaves together anecdotes, scientific data, and personal stories to create a narrative that is both informative and entertaining.

At times, the book takes on the feel of a detective story, as Kean works to uncover the hidden secrets of the air around us. The book is a perfect example of popular science writing at its best.

One of the key strengths of Caesar’s Last Breath is Kean’s ability to connect the science to the broader historical and cultural context in which it was developed. He provides fascinating insights into the political, economic, and social conditions that shaped the development of our understanding of the air.

For example, Kean discusses how the invention of the steam engine was instrumental in driving the Industrial Revolution, but also led to widespread air pollution and health problems. If the book has any weakness, it is that it can sometimes feel like there are too many ideas and stories being told at once.

Some readers may find themselves getting lost in the numerous scientific and historical details, and may struggle to keep track of all the different threads of the narrative. However, for those who persist, the rewards are well worth it.

Overall, Caesar’s Last Breath is a fascinating and engaging book that will appeal to anyone with an interest in science, history, or culture. Kean’s clear and accessible writing style, combined with his eye for detail and ability to connect complex ideas to broader themes, is sure to make this book a classic in the genre of popular science writing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

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