H2O: A Biography of Water

H2O: A Biography of Water. A book by Philip Ball.H2O: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball

In the Old Testament, the God of the Hebrews hovers over the primeval waters and brings forth the world from the infinite ocean. It is a motif echoed in creation myths throughout the world. In each, water is the fundamental precondition for life. Yet the extent to which water remains a scientific mystery is extraordinary, despite its prevalence and central importance on Earth. Whether one considers its role in biology, its place in the physical world (where it refuses to obey the usual rules of liquids) or its deceptively simple chemistry, there is still no complete answer to the question: what is water?

This book explains what, exactly, we do and do not know about the strange character of this most essential and ubiquitous of substances.


H2O transports its readers back to the Big Bang and the formation of galaxies to witness the birth of water’s constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen. These two elements spread through unimaginable expanses of space before combining to form seas and rivers, clouds and snowflakes, cosmic ice, the cytoplasm of cells and the matrix of life itself. The book explains how the world’s oceans were formed four billion years ago; where water is to be found on other planets; why ice floats when most solids sink; why, despite being highly corrosive, water is good for us; why there are at least fifteen kinds of ice and perhaps two kinds of liquid water; how scientists have consistently misunderstood water for centuries; and why wars have been waged over it.

This gloriously offbeat and intelligent book conducts us on a journey through the history of science, folklore, the wilder scientific fringes, cutting-edge chemistry, physics, cell biology and ecology, to give a fascinating new perspective on life and the substance that sustains it.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hard Back 398 pages (Sept 1999)
ISBN 0-297-64314-2

“In a tour de force of scientific exposition, Philip Ball ranges from the cosmos to the inside of cells… A reader can learn more interesting chemistry, physics, biology, geology and environmental science from this volume than from a collection of reference books.”Harvey Shepard, The Philadelphia Inquirer

More reviews of H2O: A Biography of Water

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd (1999) hard back first edition ISBN 0-297-64314-2
In the U.S. as “Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water“. Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2000) then University of California Press (2001) paperback ISBN 0-520-23008-6

H2O: A Biography of Water. A book by Philip Ball.

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