The Magic Furnace

The Magic Furnace

Every atom in our bodies has an extraordinary history. Our blood, our food, our books, our clothes – everything contains atoms forged in blistering furnaces deep inside stars, which were blown into space by those stars’ cataclysmic explosions and deaths. From red giants – stars so enormous they could engulf a million suns – to supernova explosions – the most violent events in the universe – the birth of every atom was marked by cosmic events on an enormous scale, against a backdrop of unimaginable heat and cold, brightness and darkness, space and time. But how did we discover the astonishing truth about our cosmic origins? The Magic Furnace is Marcus Chown’s extraordinary account of how scientists unravelled the mystery of atoms, and helped to explain the dawn of life. It is one of the greatest detective stories in the history of science. In fact, it is two puzzles intertwined, for the stars contain the key to unlocking the secret of atoms, and the atoms the solution to the secret of stars.


  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Publication date:
  • ISBN: 9780099578017
  • All the narrative devices you’d expect to find in a Harry Potter book are here, and they transform the story of the quest to unlock the secret of the atom into a giddy page-turner.

    The Daily Mail

  • 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, 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’

  • 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 May, ‘Queen’

  • Marcus Chown recounts how scientists had to understand atoms before they could understand what made the stars shine, and how this led to the realisation 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. His fascinating chronicle of their achievements deserves to be widely read.

    Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, ‘Natural History’

  • Suspense is the mark of a good storyteller, and The Magic Furnace keeps readers anxious for the next puzzle piece to fall into place. Reads like a Sherlock Holmes novel.

    Astronomy Magazine