Carbon comes from the stars. It is made when a star violently explodes into a super nova. Carbon is the fourth-most-common element, behind hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. (Next comes neon!) Yet carbon is found to make up only five parts per thousand of all the elements in our universe. And on Earth, carbon makes up only about 200 parts per million. Even at this low level, carbon plays a central role in many of the countless chemical cycles that take place on our planet. The most important of these is the central role carbon plays in the biochemistry of life. An entire field of chemistry, named organic chemistry, is based on the interactions carbon has with the other elements, as long as hydrogen is included. But organic chemistry doesn't include the vast number of inorganic reactions of carbon. This book explains in depth the origins, history, and roles that the element carbon plays on our planet and in our universe.
Virtually everyone reading this review will have studied carbon numerous times while moving through their chemistry and biology courses in high school and college. However, this book does a brilliant job of bringing together much of our learning and understanding of carbon and then takes us further by explaining the complex ways in which carbon affects everything about life and our planet. Reading a book dedicated to just one element provides an enjoyable and informative experience. The easy-to-read chapters present many familiar facts about carbon in a way that greatly increases one's appreciation for the element. I found that after reading the book I have a more complete, in-depth understanding of how carbon enables life and of the many other roles it plays in the universe.
The book presents a thorough explanation of the many ways that carbon chemistry affects every aspect of Earth, including the atmosphere, the biosphere, and geology. Carbon's interactions with other elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and hydrogen are explored in this context. All of these interactions are what create the world that we are familiar with. But the natural cycles of carbon are being disrupted by human activity. The author is very concerned about carbon's role in climate change, and a whole section of the book addresses this topic. As a species, we are tampering with the natural and ancient cycles of carbon, causing our planet to shift away from this life-supporting equilibrium to one that is not favorable to life as we currently know it.
I found the book to be wonderfully informative, carefully researched, and highly enjoyable to read. While its warnings about climate change are terrifying, humans need to be aware of carbon's many roles and cycles so that our species can realize how precarious a situation we have created. Hopefully, this will lead humanity to find ways to address and reverse the damage done by our lack of understanding of the delicate equilibrium we are disturbing when we use carbon recklessly.
AMANDA L. GLAZE-CRAMPES is an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades & Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. In addition to science teacher education, she has taught courses in biological sciences for grades 7–12 and undergraduate students over the last 13 years. Her interests include evolutionary biology, science and religion, and the intersections of science and society – specifically where scientific understandings are deemed controversial by the public. She holds degrees in science education from the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University. Her address is Department of Teaching & Learning, Georgia Southern University, P.O. Box 8134, Statesboro, GA 30458; e-mail: email@example.com.