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What Fritz Haber Did

In response to:

The Triumph of a Double Life from the October 19, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Fritz Stern’s Five Germanys I Have Known [NYR, October 19], Amos Elon writes that Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize “for his invention of a process to synthesize nitrogen from air, which made it possible for Germany to have both gunpowder and fertilizer during World War I.” The Haber process actually involved the synthesis of ammonia (as Elon himself notes in The Pity of It All) from nitrogen (in the air) and hydrogen. Ammonia could be readily converted to nitrates, which were used to manufacture both explosives and fertilizers. The naval blockade by the Allies during the war had prevented Germany from importing nitrates from its principal supplier, Chile.

H. Richard Levy
Professor Emeritus
Syracuse University
Syracuse, New York

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