Frank A. von Hippel


On his book The Chemical Age: How Chemists Fought Famine and Disease, Killed Millions, and Changed Our Relationship with the Earth

Cover Interview of September 02, 2020


The Chemical Age ultimately tells a story both about humanity’s courage in the face of adversity and moral decay during times of great evil. Through chemistry, we have fundamentally altered our world. We have forced famine and infectious diseases to retreat, thereby vastly improving our ability to live fulfilling lives. We have increased the lethality of war to such an extent that we are now capable of destroying all humanity, rather than just the neighboring village. We have so thoroughly altered the chemical makeup of the environment that biodiversity is in a state of free-fall and we will forever live in a world degraded of its natural diversity.

But a deep understanding of this history also gives us the means to improve our trajectory—to keep famine and disease at bay while avoiding war and cleaning up the environment. Humanity sits at a tipping point, poised for a future when either the destruction in the 20th century will be viewed as the beginning of a long slide into misery or the end of a period of hubris that future generations will find hard to comprehend.