Ball, Philip H2O: A Biography of Water

ISBN 13: 9780297643142

H2O: A Biography of Water

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9780297643142: H2O: A Biography of Water
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The extent to which water remains a scientific mystery is extraordinary, despite its prevalence and central importance on Earth. Whether one considers its role in biology, its place in the physical world (where it refuses to obey the usual rules of liquids) or its deceptively simple structure, there is still no complete answer to the question: what is water? Philip Ball's book explains what, exactly, we do and do not know about the strange character of this most essential and ubiquitous of substances.



H20 begins by transporting its readers back to the Big Bang and the formation of galaxies to witness the birth of water's constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen. It then explains how the primeval oceans were formed four billion years ago; where water is to be found on other planets; why ice floats when most solids sink; why, despite being highly corrosive, water is good for us; why there are at least fifteen kinds of ice and perhaps two kinds of liquid water; how scientists have consistently misunderstood water for centuries; and why wars have been waged over it.



Philip Ball's gloriously offbeat and intelligent book conducts us on a journey through the history of science, folklore, the wilder scientific fringes, cutting-edge physics, biology and ecology, to give a fascinating new perspective on life and the substance that sustains it. After reading this book, drinking a glass of water will never be the same again.

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Review:

When we think of liquid, we think of water. However, water is a very strange liquid indeed and it is its very strangeness that makes our planet possible, in all its geological and biological variety. H2O is a biography of the "many faces of natural water: the agent of planetary-scale life and death, the sculptor, the occult lubricant of volcanism and the agent of mineral formation, the brushwork of the skies." This clever, commercially appealing concept commits Ball to an encyclopedic journey, from the universe's inception to a consideration of "water politics", via geology, biology, high-pressure physics and even a long section on how science can become derailed by popular dreams and expectations. (The idea of using water as a magic fuel has a long pedigree: in 1996 an Indian chemist named Ramar Pillai claimed to have found a way to turn water into petrol by brewing it with a local herb; Pons and Fleischmann's claims for cold fusion were no more substantial). If it is a writer's job to efface themselves behind their text, then Philip Ball fails miserably. His opinionated, elegiac style--above all his concern to reflect water's cultural and mythical importance as well as its physical peculiarity--imprints itself strongly on the reader. The sense that he has attempted to fit everything he ever learned into one book can irritate. (Do we really need to know his unexceptional views on space exploration?) His achievement is to convince us that, given water's bizarre nature, such thoroughness was necessary. --Simon Ings

From the Publisher:

Drinking a glass of water will never be the same again.
In the Old Testament, the God of the Hebrews hovers over the primeval waters and brings forth the world from the infinite ocean. It is a motif echoed in creation myths throughout the world. In each, water is the fundamental precondition for life. Yet the extent to which water remains a scientific mystery is extraordinary, despite its prevalence and central importance on Earth. Whether one considers its role in biology, its place in the physical world (where it refuses to obey the usual rules of liquids) or its deceptively simple chemistry, there is still no complete answer to the question: what is water? Philip Ball's book explains what, exactly, we do and do not know about the strange character of this most essential and ubiquitous of substances.

H20 transports its readers back to the Big Bang and the formation of galaxies to witness the birth of water's constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen. Philip Ball shows how these two elements spread through unimaginable expanses of space before combining to form seas and rivers, clouds and snowflakes, cosmic ice, the cytoplasm of cells and the matrix of life itself. He explains how the primeval oceans were formed four billion years ago; where water is to be found on other planets; why ice floats when most solids sink; why, despite being highly corrosive, water is good for us; why there are at least fifteen kinds of ice and perhaps two kinds of liquid water; how scientists have consistently misunderstood water for centuries; and why wars have been waged over it.

Philip Ball's gloriously offbeat and intelligent book conducts us on a journey through the history of science, folklore, the wilder scientific fringes, cutting-edge chemistry, physics, cell biology and ecology, to give a fascinating new perspective on life and the substance that sustains it.

Philip Ball is Senior Editor for Physical Sciences with the international scientific journal, Nature. He writes extensively on all areas of science in Nature and New Scientist, the Times, the Independent on Sunday, the Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He is the author of Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier, which won the Association of American Publishers award for chemistry, Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century, and the best-selling The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature.

From the reviews of Philip Ball's previous books:

Designing the Molecular World

'A tour de force of popular science writing.' John Postgate, Times Literary Supplement

'The surprise discovery of the year... Philip Ball's alchemy combines knowledge, clarity and wit to transform the lead of periodic tables and molecular structures into a golden tale of chemistry's centrality in modern science.' Lucy Horwitz, Boston Book Review

Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century

'The awesome cornucopia of modern materials science, brimming with deft inventions and molecular marvels, is aptly and ably displayed here... Anyone eager to know what's coming, including both venture capitalists and poets, will relish this book.' Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Laureate in chemistry

'An outstanding book... beautifully written and illustrated... If you buy no other science book this year, I suggest you buy this one.' Colin Humphreys, New Scientist

The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature

'The Self-Made Tapestry is a brilliant book that will be read, re-read, dissected, analysed, re-read, borrowed, lent, discussed, disputed and thoroughly enjoyed by all who read it.' William Nawrocki, ChemWeb

'Philip Ball talks with a balance, thoroughness and simplicity that I found remarkable.' Edward Cox, Nature

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