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Atom: A Single Oxygen Atom's Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth... and Beyond Paperback – 9 May 2002

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Title: Atom( A Single Oxygen Atom's Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth... and Beyond) <>Binding: Paperback <>Author: LawrenceM.Krauss <>Publisher: BackBayBooks

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 21 reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Can you anthropomorphize an oxygen atom? 22 April 2006
By Nicholas Sterling - Published on
Format: Paperback
The variance in ratings for this title is interesting; I suspect it has largely to do with the fact that this book is a bit focussed and takes an unusual vantage point -- that of an atom. If you don't like the idea of anthropomorphizing an oxygen atom, this book probably isn't going to work for you.

It worked for me. Mind you, you need to have a healthy interest in nuclear physics and cosmology to read this much of it, so if you can only take 30 pages of that sort of thing then this isn't your book. Having said that, the book nicely ties in some geology and biology, and goes on to consider possible futures for our planet (as the temporary home of our oxygen atom).

After reading the final page of Atom I imagined myself sitting at a bar with an oxygen atom who tells me about his life, his participation in the birth and death of stars and so on - a huge, fantastic journey. And then when he is done, after a pause, he says "But enough about me, tell me about your life." I sit there looking blankly back at him, realizing how utterly puny the most significant (to me) events of my incredibly short life would seem to him. OK, so I was born in St. Louis -- his womb was the Big Bang!
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The Passion of the Krauss! 24 Sept. 2004
By Jeana - Published on
Format: Paperback
Simply put, I found Atom to be one of the most remarkable books I've read. It is difficult to find a physicist who can successfully throw in literary flair when describing scientific processes. When I read The Physics of Star Trek, I knew I had stumbled on a unique and talented author, and Atom did not disappoint. Rather, it blew me away! The first three chapters were somewhat intense, and probably the most "heady." From there, it is a roller coaster ride of cosmic wonders! From the universe as a "primordial baseball" we witness the birth, growth and violent death of a star, then the miracle of rebirth and the scattering of stardust to the eventual creation of life and self-aware entities questioning their place in the universe... The book is dramatic, poetic, romantic, dreamy (but not without Krauss' lighthearted wit)... I couldn't believe I was reading a book about atoms, the evolution of the universe and chemical/biological/geological processes. I was sad when it was over... This book will take you through a profound experience, and allow you to view the world through new and humbled eyes. Lawrence Krauss has captured the legacy of the minutest of things in the grandest of ways, and has succeeded in presenting hard science through wondrous and passionate art.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Delightful romp for this lump of stardust 22 Jun. 2008
By steve - Published on
Format: Paperback
I teach kids science, and one of the "tricks of the trade" I've developed is to point out the recent and ancient histories of some of the atoms in their bodies. It makes the carbon cycle a little more personal when they realize that they are a part of the carbon cycle while they are sitting there in class.
This book takes this idea to a logical conclusion, following an oxygen atom from the beginning of the universe well past the end of Earth. I enjoyed every minute of it, learned a bit, and picked up a lot of ideas to help improve my teaching next year.
While the author does not drift off into rhapsodies of poetry, the very wonder and beauty of the history he describes gives the book all the poetry it needs. Given how many oxygen atoms are in a human body, odds are that some of your atoms have been and will be where he describes. Think about it. :)
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Exciting topic, but long-winded 9 July 2002
By D. Hodgson - Published on
Format: Paperback
This was a frustrating book. The subject and its treatment are so delicious that I couldn't put it down, yet the endless recycling of the oxygen atom and his eventually Earth-bound buddies to the End of Time made me want to shoot it. This is truly a book that could have used a few timelines, charts and a Cast of Characters to avoid overwhelming the reader with its never-ending chemical cast.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Stars are the cosmic incubators for all natural elements 22 Aug. 2007
By Rama Rao - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book requires basic knowledge of physics and chemistry. Chapters 1 - 7 introduce cosmology; Chapters 8 - 9 describes evolution of stars, and physical and chemical process for the production of chemical elements; Chapters 10 - 13 addresses the evolution of life on hospitable planets such as earth. Chapters 8, 9 and 11 provide significant amount of information, while some chapters are too descriptive and boring.

When the universe was at its infancy, it consisted of clouds of hydrogen and helium molecules that started to collapse over millions of years (mass accretion) under gravity. Progressively the temperature increased due to compression and the molecules started to dissociate into atoms and finally to ions at high pressure and temperatures. At 15 million degrees, about one in a 100 million protons gain sufficient energy to collide and fuse with each other to produce deuterium nuclei, further nuclear reactions generated helium-3 nucleus. Collision of two helium-3 nuclei results in helium-4 and two protons, generating intense radiation (energy) and pressure (centrifugal force) to counter the gravitational (centripetal) force. Thus thermonuclear reactions produce heat and light of a star over billions of years of its existence which affects geological process and biological evolution in orbiting planets. If a star is massive, gravitational collapse continues and the temperature at inner core rises to 100 million degrees when two helium-4 nuclei fuse to form berylluim-8 nuclei; at higher core temperatures collision of helium-4 with beryllium-8 results in carbon-12. After millions of years of burning helium, the inner core continues to fall as the compression continues to raise core temperature and this promotes carbon-12 and helium-4 nuclear fusion producing oxygen-16 nucleus. When helium nuclei are completely exhausted; the star would have produced significant quantities of carbon and oxygen nuclei. This result in two shells; an inner core of carbon and oxygen followed by an outer shell of burning helium, which is surrounded by a shell of burning hydrogen. When helium is exhausted, the inner core is compressed further raising temperature, then two carbon nuclei fuse to produce a plethora of nuclei from oxygen to sodium and magnesium. When carbon burning is completely exhausted, the core compresses further raising temperature and pressure to promote fusion of oxygen nuclei to produce silicon, neon, and then sulfur. As the temperatures rises to one billion degrees, fusion of silicon nuclei results in iron-56 nucleus; beyond this point no further elements are generated, since heavier nuclei bind less tightly. At this stage when the temperature is 5 billion degrees, the density reaches 10,000 tons per cubic centimeter. The core starts to lose energy in the form escaping neutrinos, and fusion of protons and electrons results in increasing amounts of neutrons. As the core energy decreases, the gravitational force of matter dominates. At a density of 100 million tons per cubic centimeter, the core predominantly contains neutrons and at this point laws of quantum mechanics precludes neutrons squeezed any further thus forming a neutron star. Eventually the star collapses in a gigantic explosion called supernova. At this point the temperature is very high and during this hot expanding neutron-rich environment capture of neutrons by various elements quickly produces all natural elements up to uranium. These are expelled into the interstellar medium to great distances in spacetime, eventually cooling the debris. During cooling process; the nuclei capture electrons to become atoms and elements such as iron, silicon, aluminum and carbon will condense into microscopic solid grains at appropriate temperatures. Low molecular weight compounds such as carbon monoxide, iron oxides, silicates and water are formed at right temperatures and pressure. Photochemical reactions in presence of iron and aluminum produce carbon dioxide, methanol, ethanol, formaldehyde, and glycine (amino acid) etc. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen continue to form more complex organic and biomolecules, the source material for life. Oxygen remains adhered to grains of aluminum oxide. As the stellar dust and gas collapse inward toward a central plane of rotating material which will fragment to form planetismals (planetary nebula) around a star. Much of water was provided by comets (from Oort clouds outside the solar system) hitting earth over millions of years. The planet turned from state of high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to a more tolerable levels, and habitable temperatures which lead to the raise in oxygen concentration. It is a concerted effort of sun and the Jupiter; geological process followed by biological evolution created the blue planet. This book contains an exhaustive amount of scientific material that could serve as a reference material, and it is highly recommended.
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