The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance

The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance cover

The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance

By  Dan Egan
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A New Yorker Best Book of 2023 • A Smithsonian Staff Favorite of 2023

The New York Times best-selling author on the source of great bounty—and now great peril—all over the world.

Phosphorus has played a critical role in some of the most lethal substances on earth: firebombs, rat poison, nerve gas. But it’s also the key component of one of the most vital: fertilizer, which has sustained life for billions of people. In this major work of explanatory science and environmental journalism, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan investigates the past, present, and future of what has been called “the oil of our time.”

The story of phosphorus spans the globe and vast tracts of human history. First discovered in a seventeenth-century alchemy lab in Hamburg, it soon became a highly sought-after resource. The race to mine phosphorus took people from the battlefields of Waterloo, which were looted for the bones of fallen soldiers, to the fabled guano islands off Peru, the Bone Valley of Florida, and the sand dunes of the Western Sahara. Over the past century, phosphorus has made farming vastly more productive, feeding the enormous increase in the human population. Yet, as Egan harrowingly reports, our overreliance on this vital crop nutrient is today causing toxic algae blooms and “dead zones” in waterways from the coasts of Florida to the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes and beyond. Egan also explores the alarming reality that diminishing access to phosphorus poses a threat to the food system worldwide—which risks rising conflict and even war.

With The Devil’s Element, Egan has written an essential and eye-opening account that urges us to pay attention to one of the most perilous but little-known environmental issues of our time.

Dan Egan is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. A two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and children.

ISBN: 9781324002666

ISBN-10: 9781324002666

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Publication Date: 03/07/2023 - 12:00am

On Sale: 03/07/2023 - 12:00am

Pages: 256

Language: English

Categories

Science / Chemistry / Environmental

Nature / Ecology

Science / History

Technology & Engineering / Agriculture / Agronomy / Crop Science