Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution

Madison Smartt Bell, Author . Norton/Atlas $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-05155-1

Novelist Bell (The Stone That the Builder Refused, etc.) knows a good story when he sees it: the life of French scientist Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794) is full of suspense and intrigue set against a backdrop of war and revolution. Lavoisier, best known for having "discovered" oxygen, was arguably one of the most brilliant scientific minds of the Enlightenment, helping to lay the foundation for our modern understanding of chemistry. He was also a wise investor, amassing a substantial personal fortune by buying into the privatized French tax system—which eventually placed him on the wrong side of the French Revolution and at the foot of the guillotine. This account works best as the story of a well-intentioned and honorable man caught up in events beyond the comprehension of his formidable intellect, and Bell uses his novelistic skills in the service of narrative and character to keep Lavoisier's story fresh. When Bell detours into the history of chemistry, the writing drags. This solid if uneven book will appeal most to readers interested in the vibrant life and tragic death of a key figure in the history of science. 8 illus. not seen by PW . Agent, Jane Gelfman. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/09/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 978-0-393-34110-2
Paperback - 214 pages - 978-0-393-32854-7
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