Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything (Paperback)

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A Science News Favorite Book of 2019



An earth scientist reveals the dynamic biography of the most resonant—and most necessary—chemical element on Earth.


Carbon. It’s in the fibers in your hair, the timbers in your walls, the food that you eat, and the air that you breathe. It’s worth billions of dollars as a luxury and half a trillion as a necessity, but there are still mysteries about the element that can be both diamond and coal. Where does it come from, what does it do, and why, above all, does life need it? With poetic storytelling, Robert M. Hazen leads us on a global journey through the origin and evolution of life’s most essential and ubiquitous element.

About the Author


Robert M. Hazen is executive director of the Deep Carbon Observatory based at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Praise For…


A fascinating read.

A valuable and welcome explanation of why we would do well to pay more attention to the sixth element?and of how much more remains to be discovered about its planetary role through time.
— Ted Nield

A symphonic masterpiece that reveals how the primitive life that began on our planet four billion years ago has evolved into Darwin’s ‘endless forms most beautiful.’
— David W. Deamer, author of Assembling Life

Hazen’s enthusiasm, the string of shareable facts presented, and the introduction of so many interesting scientists… make this book such a fascinating read.… Hazen brings a distinct and intentionally personal perspective to this topic.… Throughout Symphony in C, science is presented as a living and very human endeavor.

— Nicola Pohl

Hazen sets the record straight in this thoughtful love letter to [carbon].
— Gemma Tarlach

[A] lively, expert overview.… Hazen [is] a smooth stylist.… A skillful account of the central element in our lives.

Hazen brings the process of scientific investigation to life.… [He] conveys the delight he finds in the process of understanding the world around him.… [This] enthusiastic survey also shows the limits of existing knowledge and the potential for future discoveries in an exciting field.

Probing.… Science that burrows into issues of profound interest.

From the Big Bang to coal, carbohydrates, and ultra-strong high-tech nanofibers, Robert M. Hazen provides an illuminating and enjoyable guide to the remarkable odyssey of carbon, the element of life. Enjoy the trip!
— Andrew Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University

Robert M. Hazen’s virtuoso performance captures the wonder of the sixth element?from volcanic gases to al dente pasta to life’s very beginnings?while telling the wonderful stories about the people behind the discoveries.
— Terry Plank, Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor of Geochemistry, Columbia University


Product Details
ISBN: 9780393358629
ISBN-10: 0393358623
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: October 13th, 2020
Pages: 320