Joseph Priestley and The Invention of Air

One of the most fascinating questions in the history of science regards the discovery of oxygen. At the heart of the controversy are Joseph Priestley, the British scientist who isolated the element and discovered its origin, and Antoine Lavoisier, the French scientist who refuted the prevalent phlogiston theory and replaced it with a better theoretical account that would give birth to the modern scientific study of chemistry (you can listen to a fascinating discussion of this story on this episode of In Our Time).

In addition to being a prosperous scientist, Priestley was a prolific intellectual, revolutionizing just about every discipline to which he dedicated his attention, and forging mutually influential friendships with our Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

In his fascinating book, The Invention of Air, Steven Johnson makes a compelling case that Priestley ought to be included in the pantheon of our Founding Fathers. To support this claim, Johnson offers plenty of deliciously interesting evidence suggesting that much of the early history of The American Revolution and the birth of our nation revolve in many ways around the vicissitudes and influence of Priestly's life and intellectual contributions.

Here is Johnson talking about the book with Stephen Colbert:


And here is a taste of what you can expect to find in the book:



You might also want to check out Lavoisier's impressive contributions to Einstein's E=mc2 and to the achievement of absolute zero.
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