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The World's Greatest Fix

The World's Greatest Fix
G.J. Leigh
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004
S651 .L55 2004

The World's Greatest Fix: A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture tells the story of how humans have used their ingenuity throughout history to maintain soil fertility despite continuous use, and to avoid famine through productive agriculture. It starts with a layman's guide to the relevant chemistry of nitrogen and shows how the development of towns and fixed settlements meant that methods had to be found to maintain the fertility of fields exploited year after year. The way this was done, in purely empirical fashion, is described for the ancient Chinese, the Incas, the Mayas, and the Romans. Author G.J. Leigh then examines the development of agriculture in England, particularly the use of crop rotation. The gradual evolution of more sophisticated methods of land management is covered, emphasizing the use of fertilizers and the employment of plants and animals. The book also details the seventeenth- century development of chemistry with the realization of the modern concept of the chemical elements, and the establishment of agricultural science by Davy and von Liebig.

Leigh explains how we arrived at our current understanding of biological nitrogen fixation through the efforts of generations of dedicated farmers and researchers. Later chapters deal with the birth of the nitrogen fixation industry and the political and economic consequences of it in Europe (First World War) and South America (guano and nitrate). The World's Greatest Fix shows how industrial fixation has developed from a laboratory process newly discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century into the impressive and sophisticated procedure in use today. Finally, the value of industrial nitrate to help feed the current world population and the environmental consequences of nitrate use in terms of pollution in waters and human health implications are discussed.

Quoted from dust jacket.