Cover image for Gasp! : the swift & terrible beauty of air
Gasp! : the swift & terrible beauty of air
Sherman, Joe, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Shoemaker & Hoard : Distributed by Publishers Group West, [2004]

Physical Description:
x, 414 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Our airy bodies -- A whole lot of air -- The origins of air -- Once air was simply marvelous -- Air, God, and the guillotine -- Mythic gods of air -- Is there air in heaven? -- The little atmospheric disruptions of man -- A few twentieth century air nightmares -- Clean air dreams -- The black triangle -- One clean breath -- My short stay at the Buddhist Breath Center.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
QC161 .S48 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From a baby's first breath--that universal and fundamental entry into life outside the womb--air is taken for granted. Joe Sherman's The Book of Air is an entertaining investigation of air and the discoveries of how it works in the body and in our world.

Inhale, and learn about the difference between your aerobic capacity and Lance Armstrong's; exhale, and follow the observation and science of the atmosphere from Aristotle to Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen; hold your breath and investigate why over the last two centuries air has transformed from something marvelous into something menacing. In The Book of Air, Joe Sherman blends the history and myths of air, together with its environmental and physiological effects, into a rich and sometimes troubling account of what gives us our life force.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Writing in an informal, sometimes charming tone, Sherman (In the Rings of Saturn) offers a wide range of material about the air we breathe. He explains the way the body processes oxygen (and looks at why some babies have difficulty taking their first breath). Then he explores scientists? growing understanding of air through the centuries, from Aristotle, who believed that the Earth literally exhaled vapors that, when trapped below Earth?s surface, became metals, to the 18th-century French chemist Lavoisier, who unseated phlogiston in favor of oxygen as the part of air that caused fire. But even as air was being studied, Sherman says, global forces were making it less breathable. The author describes the killer fogs that engulfed London in the 19th century due to the mass burning of coal; the Germans? use of chlorine gas at Ypres in WWI; and nuclear testing, which has devastated air quality in many areas of the world. Sherman also provides an overview of regulatory attempts to create a healthier environment, from the efforts of Victorian-era feminists who promoted pure air to the troubled history of the Clean Air Act in the U.S. In a thoughtful and engaging manner, and without writing like an environmental polemicist, Sherman sheds light on a substance that is becoming more and more opaque. Agent, Sally Brady. (Nov. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Although this work is touted as a look at air's "place in history, myth, and everyday life," only the first third covers respiration, the evolution of the atmosphere, and the history of scientific inquiry into the nature of air; a mere 20 pages are dedicated to air in myth and religion. Journalist Sherman (In the Rings of Saturn) devotes the remainder to the beating the environment has taken from humanity. In that respect, his work certainly provides a broad view of the topic, starting from the copper belched into the air by the first smelters thousands of years ago and continuing through post-9/11 concerns about chemical and biological agents. But Sherman's tendency to pepper his narrative liberally with scientific explanations that are often imprecise, or worse, just plain incorrect-he erroneously uses the Big Bang (the beginning of the universe, 14 billion years ago) interchangeably with the beginning of the solar system (4.5 billion years ago)-saps the rest of his text of credibility. Nevertheless, it is a good survey and would suit most public libraries.-Marcia R. Franklin, Academy Coll. Lib., Bloomington, MN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.