Hot Carbon – REVIEW

A Litercurious Book Review

Hot Carbon By John F. Marra
Title Hot Carbon
Author James W Bancroft
Publisher Radius Book Group (April 18, 2019)
Format Hardcover
Pages 604
Language English
ISBN # 1526718014 (ISBN-13: 978-1526718013)

The Author

John F. Marra is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and after a non-traditional route became involved in oceanographic based research. He has been studying the oceans and the effects of carbon 14 for over 30 years.

Even though he was a Chicago boy, he had a strong desire to sail the seas, eventually becoming a Naval Officer. The sea wasn’t his only calling however, and being the possessor of a sharp mind, he developed a keen interest in nature and the natural world in general. Marra eventually resigned his commission to study in a graduate program as a research assistant. His CV is resplendent with many long years of oceanographic research. He moved to a more academic track and has enjoyed success in his field. He is currently a Professor and Director of AREAC Earth and Environmental Sciences at Brooklyn College.

Find out more about John Marra here:

Who would enjoy this book?

This volume would appeal most to those with a scientific focus. Students of the Environmental Sciences would be the best candidates to enjoy the offering in Hot Carbon. I studied a different scientific profession, and yet, I still found this first outing by Marra to be entertaining and enlightening, although replete with factual errors. If you have an interest in learning new things, this book will be an exciting read. Almost, anyone over 16 years old will find this a useful addition to their bookshelf.

What is the story about?

The bulk of the book revolves around Carbon 14 and its universal ubiquity. Marra explains, in lucid and concise terms, the importance of the isotope and its unique importance to life on earth as it corresponds to the process of photosynthesis and its interaction with microscopic phytoplankton. The book is beautifully illustrated with a plethora of images, maps, charts, and tables.

From the inception, I found the book particularly delightful and entertaining; two responses I don’t usually get from what I thought was a hardcore science thesis. In the first few pages you are left in no doubt of Marra’s dedication to his work as he describes the privations on one of his many research trips. He effectively depicts the myriad of dangers and the deadly nature of the job. For a brief moment, I believed that I was reading an adventure book, rather than what could have been a stultifying stuffy re-telling of some mediocre scientific research. I was hooked on the book and couldn’t wait to finish.

I was particularly struck by the understated delivery of the prose. His descriptions, explanations, and familiarity with the subject really sold the story and highlighted his abilities as a professor. It was an easier read than expected and that added to its allure. I was disappointed when the book ended; it left me wanting more. I understand that this is Marra’s first book and I hope it won’t be his last. I will certainly be pre-ordering his next publication. So please John, don’t keep us waiting.


There are areas where those who didn’t pay attention in organic chemistry may get a little lost in the translation of detailed processes, but it’s not a deal breaker in any way.

Overall, I found this volume to be a pleasure to read, easily accessible, and well written. You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy this book. Put simply, you don’t want to be the one person in class not to have read this; don’t be that guy!


I wish to extend my kindest regards to The Author, The Publisher, and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this wonderful book.