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Invention of Air, The: Reviewed

Author:Steven Johnson
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:Non-fiction
Year of publication:2008

A lovely biography of Joseph Priestley, a scientist, theologian, and political thinker.

In these days when we are trying, finally, to get the politics out of science, this book argues that the reverse, having scientists care about politics is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States and Britain. Not that kings and princes always wish it so.

Note to sensitive readers: Priestley's experiments often involved the use of live animals and plants, some of which died in the absence of oxygen.


One of Priestley's great strengths was in his ability to create experiments and to note details that signaled where his results might be followed up by further experiments. Priestley was less adept at giving up on assumptions that he brought into the experiments to begin with.

Another great strength was his ability, in fact, his obsession, with exchanging information with other scientists.

This biography serves as a tribute to the scientific method (which Priestley did not really follow), Joseph Priestley, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and, in an interesting way, John Adams.

Highly recommended.

-- Emily

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