3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Most people know that carbon is the element that can be found in all manner of products, from the humble pencil to the rare and expensive diamond. It is also found on a number of other items too, bike frames, tennis rackets and F1 cars where it has been used for many years. Whenever I think of carbon, I think of the phrase that Arthur C Clarke used to describe the human race: carbon-based bi-peds.

The element is crucial to life on this planet. Its ability to attract and connect to other elements makes it extremely versatile and it plays its part in biological mechanisms as diverse as photosynthesis and cell respiration, it could be considered the key element for life and death. Our very being is made up from 18% carbon, less than oxygen and more than hydrogen.

All carbon is formed in stars by elemental fusion and to take us through the story of carbon, Dag Olav Hessen begins with the makeup of the protons, neutrons and electrons and just how and why carbon is so versatile and readily forms bonds with other elements. So much so that there are currently 10 million different compounds recorded. From this, he takes us on the three unique structures that it can form, as he describes them, soft, hard and round. As carbon can for single, double and triple bonds it is and goes into some detail about the way it bonds to other elements and that its ideal structure is a ring.

Most people are aware of carbon these days with the role that it is playing in the growing climate change crisis and the second section of the book is full of the science behind this. One of the key scientists who started to measure CO2 in the 1950s was a man called Charles Keeling. One of the instruments that he made was first turned on in 1958 on the top of Mauna Loa and was only turned off in 2006. There is lots of detail on how the carbon cycle works and how many different cyclic events can amplify some of the effects. The final part of the book is about the almost certain catastrophic effects that we will have from the exponential growth in CO2 levels as well as some of the measures that some countries are taking to try and combat it. It makes for pretty grim reading

You would think that a book about a single element would be so interesting, but thankfully this one is. This is a clearly written (and translated) science book that thankfully did not read like a scientific paper or textbook as some of these can have the habit of doing. Worth reading overall I thought.


(The translator was Kerri Pierce)

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