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Fritz Haber: Chemist, Nobel Laureate, German, Jew by Dietrich Stoltzenberg (109,000 words, 50 illustrations)

This biography of Fritz Haber, now abridged by the author and translated into English, illuminates the life of one of the most gifted yet controversial figures of the twentieth century. Haber, a brilliant physical chemist, carried out pioneering research in electrochemistry and thermodynamics and won the Nobel Prize for his synthesis of ammonia, a process essential for synthetic fertilizer — and for the explosives Germany needed in World War I.

An ardent patriot, Haber also developed chemical weapons. Believing them to be no worse than other types of warfare, he directed the first true gas attack in military history from the front lines in Ypres, Belgium, in 1915. His nationalism also spurred his failed attempt to extract gold from seawater, in hopes of paying off Germany’s huge war reparations.

Yet Haber, a Jew by birth, was exiled from his homeland in 1933 by the Nazis, and died the following year never knowing the full dire effects of his work, as Zyklon B, a gas studied in his institute around 1920, was used to murder prisoners in concentration camps, including members of Haber’s own family.

With the help of previously unpublished documents and sources, Dietrich Stoltzenberg explores Haber’s personal life, the breakdown of his two marriages, his efforts to develop industrial and political support for scientific study in Germany, his directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm (now Max Planck) Institute, his ethical struggles in times of war, and more.

“A much needed and fine new biography of Haber” — Oren Harman,
The New Republic

“This exhaustive biography, first published in Germany in 1996, captures Haber’s complexity well. Based on diligent research, it offers significant detail on Haber’s professional life for both specialists and generalists... Stoltzenberg’s work is perhaps as rich a biography as can be written on Haber’s achievements... This is an excellent biography... [based on] extensive primary research... The result is a work that brings to light important facets not just of the life of Fritz Haber but of several decades of evolution of the German scientific milieu.” — Guillaume P. De Syon,

Reviews of the
German edition, winner of the Author’s Prize of the German Chemical Society:

“[An] excellent biography” — Max Perutz,
The New York Review of Books

“Stoltzenberg has written a fine biography of this deeply flawed individual... [This] sympathetic and comprehensive account... should appeal to general readers as well as to historians and all those interested in the social responsibility of science.” — David Cahan, Nature

“[S]ucceeds admirably in enlivening the many facets of this remarkable man and his extraordinary career as a creative academic, a leading member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, a shrewd businessman, and an influential advisor to various governments in Berlin. But Stoltzenberg is equally adept at presenting Haber the private man, who had to fight prejudice, endure two broken marriages, and, finally, emigration when the Nazis came to power in 1933... Stoltzenberg’s superb biography, which leaves little to be desired, is the remarkable achievement of a professional chemist turned historian.” — Peter Alter

“The book demonstrates Haber’s versatility as well as his enormous but not inexhaustible vitality... [T]he most detailed, best documented portrait we have of a remarkable and still controversial scientist.” — Jeffrey A. Johnson,

“Haber has finally found his ideal biographer in Dietrich Stoltzenberg, who possesses impeccable credentials for the task... [A] product of exemplary scholarship.” — George Kauffman,
Annals of Science