English Translation of “the Chemical Constitution of the Atmosphere From Earth’s Origin to the Present, and Its Implications for Protection of Industry and Ensuring Environmental Quality” by C.j. Koene (1856)

Author: McMenamin, Mark A.S.
C.J. Koene’s 1856 book on the history of the atmosphere had nearly become a lost work when the author, with the help of a European colleague, located a rare surviving copy. This book, presented here in its original French with English translation, is a foundational document in the earth and environmental sciences and deserves to be more widely known. Koene was one of the first to suggest (correctly) that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had decreased over geologic time, and was also among the first scientists to grapple with the environmental implications of the industrial revolution.

In this translated edition, the author (in the Foreword) and David Schwartzman (in the Preface) discuss the significance of Koene’s work and its importance for understanding both the history of early research into the development of Earth’s atmosphere and the history of environmental debates associated with industrialization.

Presented as a series of four public lectures, this book provides an engaging glimpse of the development of the science of atmospheric chemistry, and a unique view of the early progress of what would now be called earth science. The book is extensively annotated with footnotes relating Koene’s writings to both earlier and later work. Koene can now be recognized (along with other luminaries such as J.J.Ebelman and V.I.Vernadsky) as one of the founders of earth system science, a research field that is of great contemporary interest to geologists, geochemists, paleoclimatologists, environmental consultants and atmospheric chemists).


“The history of science has long been neglected in the education of scientists. Many science textbooks make only cursory mention of the uneven development of science or its social context leading up to modern concepts. Thus, those going through this educational process commonly graduate with a narrow specialist outlook and an incrementalist view of scientific progress. Hence, any resurrection of obscure works from the youth of science we now call biogeochemistry is most welcome and we owe Mark McMenamin a debt of gratitude for making this text available for students and specialists alike. (From the Preface) Professor David W. Schwartzman, Howard University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Editor’s Foreword
1. First Lecture
2. Second Lecture
3. Third Lecture
4. Fourth Lecture
Bilingual Index