The Invention of Air - Steven Johnson

JOSEPH Priestley, amateur scientist, ordained minister and radical thinker, is generally credited with discovering oxygen. It seems that he didn t really. But he did discover photosynthesis – the process by which plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen –

JOSEPH Priestley, amateur scientist, ordained minister and radical thinker, is generally credited with discovering oxygen.

It seems that he didn't really.

But he did discover photosynthesis - the process by which plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen - and therefore is the founding father of ecosystem science.

He also gave the world fizzy drinks. Where would Schweppes and Coca Cola be without him?


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The Invention of Air (�9.99,Penguin) is part biography and part essay about Priestley's importance to the world.

Author Steven Johnson shows how Priestley and his Age of Enlightenment colleagues helped us understand the world we live in and how far we have travelled, thanks to the power of human inquiry.

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Priestley's experiments, it seems, were rather random, but in the 1700s little was known about the natural world, so there were plenty of phenomena just waiting to be discovered by a curious man.

And because he was such an enthusiast, he was quick to share his findings with anyone who would listen.

Unfortunately, not everyone was that keen on being enlightened, and Priestley was hounded from Britain after his home was burned down by a rioting mob.

He fled to the newly independent US, where he was friends with founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

An intelligent, clearly written account of an extraordinary life, which is still relevant to the problems we face today, more than 200 years later.

- LINDSAY JONES

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