Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Symphony in C

When I first picked up Symphony in C, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Unfortunately, the hardback I read did not have the frog on the cover (as that shown below), but instead had a periodic table. I’m happy to say that whilst chemistry was the main component of this book, it was nowhere near as dry as I first thought it may be. Symphony in C unified two of my passions, biology and geology. While Robert M. Hazen spends the first part of the book discussing the myriad of ways that carbon forms various minerals and why, the second half ponders the origins of life based on this initial information. It is amazing how varied and diverse carbon is, and how important it is for life! If there is one thing that Symphony in C highlights to me, it is that science needs to be more interdisciplinary, especially if we wish to learn more about the origins of life and what makes Earth so special (chemically).

It was fascinating to learn about the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and it’s aim, Hazen is it’s director so he is best suited for writing about carbon and the DCO. Some of these aims include understanding more about deep life, deep energy and extreme physics. For example, who knew that microbes survive in the geosphere kilometres below the surface? Or that diamonds can be used as anvils to compress matter to thousands of atmospheres in pressure? It is surprising facts like this that are carefully placed throughout the book, like a well tended garden, that keep you hooked. I’m also now tempted to go back and look through my A-level geology text books to reabsorb the information within regarding carbonates and subduction zones. The Earth’s core is also likely to be the biggest store of carbon, although our inability to measure it properly has hampered the efforts to verify this. This unlikely fact may also be the originator of some of the world’s largest diamonds, which have different inclusions than smaller ones, indicating they formed in contrasting envrionments.

Symphony in C was a pleasure to read, I’m ashamed that I hadn’t become aware of Hazen’s writing beforehand. It is extremely elegant and informative, while also being accessible. One thing I do think the book could do with, is some more illustrations. There are a few colour images on the central plates, but these don’t include all of the things that Hazen mentions, that may be hard for people as myself to visualise. Whether these be as black and white and included with the text, or added as additional plates, I don’t mind. I’m one of those people that like to be able to picture what is going on in my head as I read it, it’s my way of filing that information away. It’s always great to be on the same page with a writer and researcher, instead of having to run off to Google every now and again to figure out what something looks like. Other than that, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in chemistry, geology, biology and the origins of life. It really does have it all!

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