More about the book...

Excerpt from the book's Prologue


Nitrogen, pillar of life

Science and war

Other resources on Fritz Haber

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What others are saying about Master Mind and Between Genius and Genocide

Chemical & Engineering News:

"... expertly written and meticulously researched ... a riveting reminder that human beings rarely fall exclusively on the side of good or evil. "

London Review of Books:

"Charles has made good use of the manuscript and oral history material on Haber ..... his accessible, engaged and often elegantly written book finds the question of Haber's moral and social identity compelling ...."

The Observer (London):

"Haber's story is an enduring scientific tragedy, one that Charles tells with commendable clarity, style and brevity."

New Scientist:

"Fate has been kind to Haber in one regard. In Charles, he has a sophisticated biographer whose accessible style belies the depth of scholarship and research which underpins the work. Unlike the authors of too many biographies of scientists, Charles prefers original archival material to secondary sources, and uneasy truths to misleading caricatures. The result is an outstanding work, and one which should be mandatory reading for critics and cheerleaders of science alike."


"Charles's admirable biography will elucidate the controversy and shed fresh light on Haber's memory."

Financial Times:

"Haber's is truly a tragic story .... Charles tells the story with clarity and vigour."

Sunday Herald (Scotland):

"Daniel Charles tells a wonderful tale, worthy of screen treatment, but also scrupulous in its scientific detail. One of the books of the year."

Washington Times:

"a thorough, sensitive, beautifully written account. ... It is hard to imagine that a more insightful portrait of Haber, or discussion of the two-faced, Janus-like nature of modern science, providing unimagined advances in prosperity and health with one hand, and inconceivable tools to inflict suffering and evil with the other, could be found."

The Telegraph (Calcutta, India):

"Charles' portrayal of Haberšs triumph and tragedy will captivate any reader."

San Francisco Chronicle:

"... illuminating and very readable biography... Charles depicts Haber's rise and fall in quick, well-considered strokes ... " See full review.

New York Sun:

"Mr. Charles, an elegant writer who gives the lie to the idea that biography is not a historically conscious discipline, rightly focuses on one of Clara's letters ... What can a single case prove? asks the deductive historian. Almost everything, responds the inductive biographer."

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

"The book's lengthy subtitle only hints at the full drama. ... The final pages lay out the author's conclusions, but they also allow readers to puzzle over Haber's story and what his life and times can tell them about their own. What lingers when they put this book down are not the facts that Mr. Charles so carefully presents, but questions that only they can answer."

Library Journal:

"... vivid, fast-paced, economically written ... Occasional departures from straight biography (where, for example, the author discusses nitrogen's place in contemporary times and its consequences) provide welcome and informative digressions."


"eminently readable ... Charles' descriptions of Haber's education and positions are enhanced by an astute estimation of his motivations and character..."

Kirkus Reviews:

"Well-told life of a little-known but important scientist. ...A welcome and accessible addition to the history of science, and an object lesson in the perils of scientific amorality."

Oliver Sacks:

"A deeply thoughtful study of Fritz Haber--a brilliant, fascinating and finally tragic figure--and his equivocal legacy. Master Mind is a book to make one ponder."

Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection:

"In Master Mind, author Daniel Charles finds the perfect mix of brilliance and darkness - science at its most beautiful and its most wicked. For anyone who doubts that scientists must mix compassion into their formulas, and stir some ethics into the chemical brews, this is an antidote, a near perfect morality tale."

W. Michael Blumenthal, director of the Jewish Museum Berlin and former US Secretary of the Treasury:

"This is an excellent biography - the fascinating and ultimately tragic story of an extraordinary scientist, a loyal German Jew, rejected by the country he loved, who failed to foresee the bloody history of the twentieth century and became its victim."

Deborah Lipstadt, author of History on Trial:

"This is a fascinating tale of science, history, politics, and antisemitism. The little known - and frightening - interplay between the work of a German Jewish Nobel laureate and the gas chambers at Auschwitz makes for exceptionally compelling reading."

Frank N. Von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs, Princeton University:

"Haber's life is a morality tale for those who hope to see technology used to improve civilization, not to destroy it. Master Mind is a readable and insightful portrait of the life and times of this great and tragic figure in twentieth-century science."

Roald Hoffman, chemist and writer:

"The dramatic life of a German Jewish scientist caught, of his own will, between the promise of science and the annihilation of war comes to life in this beautifully written biography of a man, his science, and his century."

William Lanouette, author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb:

"Gracefully written and rigorously researched, Master Mind reveals the perils of science and the pain of a tortured soul. At last we can appreciate Fritz Haber's creative spirit - and the misguided forces that destroyed it."

David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors of Wittgenstein's Pokerand Bobby Fischer goes to War:

"Fritz Haber's brilliance produced discoveries that fed the world, gassed World War I soldiers, and eventually slaughtered millions. Skillfully narrated with verve and sympathy, Master Mind offers a challenging insight into the nature of a man driven by patriotism and absorption in science, and blind to the rise of Nazism that would destroy his world."