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A World on Fire
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About the Author

Joe Jackson is the author of four works of nonfiction and a novel. He was an investigative reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot for 12 years, covering criminal justice and the state's death row. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be reached through his website, joejacksonbooks.com.

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Who first discovered oxygen in the 1770s: English scientist Joseph Priestley or the French aristocrat Antoine Lavoisier? The question became a controversial one, as novelist and nonfiction author Jackson relates, at a time when France and England were enemies. Jackson (Leavenworth Train) shows that Priestley was the first to isolate oxygen, but didn't realize what it was: British scientists still clung to the old "phlogiston" theory of burning, and Priestley called the gas "dephlogisticated air." Lavoisier, who undoubtedly based his discoveries on conversations with Priestley, recognized that oxygen was a distinct gas and in the process revolutionized thinking on combustion. (He also developed the chemical nomenclature used today.) Both men met unhappy fates: Priestley, a vocal opponent of the power of both the king and the Church, saw his home burnt down by a mob and fled to America. The aristocratic Lavoisier (as Madison Smartt Bell also recounted in his recent Lavoisier in the Year One) was guillotined during the Terror, condemned with the words, "The Republic has no need of scientists." Jackson offers a well-written and lavishly detailed account of a seminal period in the development of modern chemistry. 8 pages of illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Noah Lukeman. (Oct. 10) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

An exhilarating narrative, sweeping us through great discoveries and international rivalries, yet strengthened by meticulous research and analysis. (Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men)

This tale of eminent scientists victimized by political ideology is told with passion and a splendid attention to vivid detail. (Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times)

Five-time Pulitzer Prize nominee Jackson (Leavenworth Train) once again puts his investigative skills to the test, this time to trace the story of oxygen's discovery by Englishman Joseph Priestley and Frenchman Antoine Lavoisier. Rivals, yet eternally linked to each other, these scientists experimented and dared to challenge centuries-old Greek philosophy. Though their cumulative body of research was extensive, the watershed moment for both was their nearly simultaneous discovery of oxygen and the significance it held for what was to become the new science of chemistry. Jackson dramatically unfolds the parallel lives of these two men, explaining their research and insights in terms that will captivate most readers. He deftly interweaves their lives and the violent events of the final third of the 18th century in alternating chapters. However, Jackson devotes a greater part of his book to Priestley; for a more comprehensive treatment of Lavoisier, see novelist Madison Smartt Bell's Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution. This book is appropriate for high school, public, and academic libraries.-Margaret F. Dominy, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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