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

By Robert Hazen

An enchanting biography of the most resonant – and most necessary – chemical element on Earth.

Carbon. It is the building block of every cell that makes up every living thing. It is the essential component of the food we eat, the fuel we burn, the wood we use and the air we breathe. It is worth billions as a luxury and half a trillion as a necessity, but there are still mysteries to be solved 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?

In Symphony in C, leading carbon scientist Robert M. Hazen takes us on a vibrant journey through the origin and evolution of life’s most widespread element. The story unfolds in four movements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – and transports us through nearly 14 billion years of cosmic history, explaining how carbon is formed in the hearts of stars and why all life forms – earthbound or alien – use it as the basis of their biology. Symphony in C is a sweeping chronicle of carbon from its birth amidst the stars to its unknowable life cycle deep within the Earth’s core and its role in the evolution of all life in the universe.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 20 Aug 2020
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0-00-829241-6
Robert M. Hazen is Senior Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University. He received the BS and SM in geology at the MIT, his PhD at Harvard University in Earth science and was NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge University. The biomineral ‘hazenite’ was named in his honour.

Praise for Symphony in C -

”'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” - Nature

”'Covering topics from carbon’s ancient origins to the threats that carbon compounds pose to our future climate, Hazen’s book is a fascinating read. Symphony in C chronicles cutting-edge science that’s helping researchers make better sense of the carbon-rich world around us” - Science News

”'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

”'C is the element carbon. C is a musical note. Scientist-musician Hazen uses the element and the note to compose 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 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

”'This book is an incredibly rich story of carbon and its role in of life. Hazen has outdone himself in delivering an engaging, edifying, great read. If you don’t know why carbon is important in your life, or even if you think you do, you should put down whatever you’re reading and get this book” - Paul G. Falkowski, author of Life’s Engines``