REVIEWS OF The Magic Furnace



In the US…

"Suspense is the mark of a good storyteller, and The Magic Furnace keeps readers anxious for the next puzzle piece to fall into place. Marcus Chown, cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine, tells the story behind the researchers  who eventually discovered the elusive source of solar energy. And he does it with an entertaining  writing style borrowed from fellow Londoner Arthur Conan Doyle, for The Magic Furnace reads like a Sherlock Holmes novel."

Nick Nichols/AstronomyMagazine


"I heartily enjoyed Marcus Chown's impressive book. This is the story of ultimate alchemy -- not the sorcerer's simple fantasy of transmuting lead into gold, but the mighty creation of all elements from none. With excitement and admirable skill, Marcus Chown narrates a complex epic on the grandest and smallest scales, peopled by the rogues and geniuses who deciphered the universe."

Dava Sobel (Author of “Longitude”)


"The Magic Furnace is the work of a literary alchemist who transmutes the iron of complexity into the gold of lucidity. Chown's wizardry translates baffling mysteries of physics into concepts comprehensible to non-specialists. Fascinating as a detective story, the author's crystal-clear narrative allows us to follow, step by step, the unfolding story of how scientists came to understand atoms and the cosmos."

The [Nashville] Tennessean


"In a series of artfully connected and well-crafted stories, cosmologist Marcus Chown traces humanity's 2,500-year quest to understand the nature and origin of matter... Thanks to Mr. Chown's gift for storytelling, readers eagerly follow every step, misstep and blind alley on the path of discovery from Democritus to the present. They celebrate each human triumph and foible, chance discovery and brilliant insight. In the end, they savor the unanswered scientific and philosophical questions that the author places before them as just desserts for beings whose substance was 15 billion years in the making."

Dallas The Morning News


"Marcus Chown's The Magic Furnace tells the story of how we came to understand first that the world is made of atoms and then how those atoms were made in the Universe. It's an inspiring tale that bears retelling, especially when famous anecdotes are freshened up with intriguing details... It is undeniable and astonishing that, starting from a formless hot gas, atoms have developed a sense of their history. Chown's book offers readers and their inner atoms an enjoyable introduction to that history. A fine nonspecialist account of the foundations of cosmochemistry."



"In The Magic Furnace, science writer Marcus Chown recounts how scientists had to understand atoms before they could understand what made the stars shine, and how this led to the realization that the atoms on Earth were themselves forged in ancient stars. In tracing this intellectual quest, Chown highlights the advances made by many important but under appreciated pioneers in the field. Marcus Chown's fascinating chronicle of their achievements deserves to be widely read."

Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees/ Natural History


"The strength of The Magic Furnace is in the story - it never gets bogged down in scientific jargon. It's written so that no background knowledge of atomic science or stellar evolutionis required, and yet Chown makes these complex topics eminently comprehensible and downright entertaining... The Magic Furnace is a very readable piece inner workings of stars and the origin of everything in the universe - including us."

Sky & Telescope


"This charmingly written adventure recounts the trail leading to our modern understanding of how the elements formed. In some ways this popularization covers much of the same ground as Ken Croswell’s The Alchemy of the Heavens, but Chown’s is the easier read. The general excellence and accuracy of the text highly commend it."

Professor Owen Gingerich/Journal of the History of Astronomy


"The Magic Furnace tells the story of the discovery of the birth of atoms inside stars. The discussion of the build-up of atomic nuclei is very good. Marcus Chown is happiest  when recounting the personal stories of scientists and their achievements. The account of Gustav Kirchhoff's discovery that each element has a characteristic spectrum, and his identification of the elements in the spectrum of sunlight, makes enjoyable reading."

Hans A. Bethe, Nobel prizewiner/Nature


In the UK…

"All the narrative devices you'd expect to find in a Harry Potter book are here, and they transform the story of the quest tounlock the secret of the atom into a giddy page- turner. Who could resist chapters subdivided into morsels tastily sub-headed The Incredible Shrinking Sun orThe Most Outrageous Prediction in Science? Or the cliff-hangers that punctuate each chapter? Or the anecdotes? For example, Marie Curie's laboratory notebooks recording her work on radioactivity are still considered too dangerous to handle and are kept, 60 years after her death, in lead-linedboxes. It is an unusual approach to science writing but a just one, because, when you think about it, the cosmos holds little more breathtaking or magical than the facts of creation."

The Daily Mail


 "The thrill of science without the confusion. 2500 years of science in 200 pages."

Physics Education


"We are stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang. Or, as Marcus Chown puts it, we are cosmic nuclear waste. This wondrous creation continues in our own sun, which transforms 400 million tonnes of hydrogen into heavier atoms every second; releasing energy that keeps us alive. Stellar nuclear fusion has therefore given us atoms for our bodies and warmth in which to evolve. Magic is not the word. Chown has done this story great service, melding astrophysics with deftly worded pen portraits of the protagonists, from the cripplingly shy Arthur Eddington who worked on the principles of stellar mechanics to the wine- swigging, womanising Ukrainian George Gamow who first astonished the world with the idea of the Big Bang. The end result is a graceful, witty biography of the universe's most important entity: the atom."

TheObserver/"Paperback of the Week"


"If only because of it's grand scale cosmology can bring out the worst in science writers. But The Magic Furnace is as unputdownable as any thriller as it unifies the very big and the very small in a single coherent vision of Creation."

Simon Ings/


"If you have ever wondered what it is that makes the sun or stars shine, or what it is that makes up matter in the world, you might be surprised to find out that these two questions are very much connected. The Magic Furnace can tell you the answer to both these questions and more. Marcus Chown carries the reader on a whistle-stop tour. The fast pace means that the book never becomes too technical. It is also a great book on the history of science."

The North Western Evening Mail


"A clear introduction to a fascinating area of physic sand astronomy. Chown is to be congratulated on a beautifully crafted book. Like his previous work, Afterglow of Creation, it will surely be a strong candidate for future science book prizes."

New Scientist


"Marcus Chown's The Magic Furnace is an eminently readable piece of science history dealing with the quest to discover the nature of matter, recounted with a novelist's eye for character and suspense."

New Statesman/Books of the Year


"The Magic Furnace sheds light on the random and haphazard way a good fraction of big scientific discoveries were made. The research must have been a nightmare but it is well worth it. The Magic Furnace is well constructed, well written and extremely readable."

Astronomy & Geophysics


"Chown writes clearly and excitingly about how thecreation of the elements was discovered. The physics is accurate but explained simply and directly. This book is a stimulating account of how the Universe is constructed in such a way that 'atoms acquire the ability to be curious about themselves."

Astronomy Now


 "Chown, cosmology consultant of New Scientist, is considered second only to Stephen Hawking in science writing. His previous book, Afterglow of Creation, was runner-up for the Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize and Hawking's A Brief History of Time is the only book to have outsold it."

Welwyn & Hatfield Times


"I am reading it on the plane and thoroughly enjoying it-- you really have a very lucid style, which makes even the likes of me feel like I know what you're talking about!"

Brian Ma, Guitarist, "Queen"/PhD in Astrophysics


"It's fantastic and destined to be the next Longitude!"

Anne McNaught/Science producer, BBC TV


"Chown writes with both clarity and fluency, opening up the extraordinary landscapes of the known universe for the lay reader. The Magic Furnace is a potent example of how science-fact can be more absorbing, more entertaining and more magical than any science-fiction. But it can only be so in the hands of a natural communicator. Chown is one, and his innate understanding of the parts that character, circumstance, politics and serendipity play in any major scientific discovery gives The Magic Furnace a human dimension which is both illuminating and intriguing. A super book."

Phil Whitaker/Author of "Eclipse of the Sun" and"Triangulation


In Japan…

"A truly a very enjoyable book about origin of atoms and cosmology. People who are even slightly interested in physics and chemistry will not be able to stop turning page after page, wanting to know what happens next. Where did the elements that comprise everything come from? Where and how were oxygen, carbon and nitrogen made? They were born in the stars which died aeon ago... Depicting a history of science in such an entertaining manner is certainly the work of a master. It is possible because the author can tell how and what the scientists are thinking when they are doing their jobs, as if he is right there with them... An extremely enjoyable book for young people who will encounter the charm of science. Of course, this book is enjoyable as well for those who are not so young but also want to enjoy the world of science."

Asahi Shimbun


 "This is certainly a science enlightening book of the first class. It is long time since I last encountered such a simply written book, yet in which rich contents are condensed."

The Yomiuri Weekly