Caesar’s Last Breath Reading Log

Caesar’s Last Breath Reading Log


In order to learn more about the practice of science and how science and society influence each other through an exploration of the air you breathe, you will read one chapter of Caesar's Last Breath assigned to you by your teacher—this includes the short interlude that follows the chapter. Use this sheet to summarize the main stories and science facts you read about.


While you read Caesar's Last Breath, use this reading log to summarize the main stories and science facts while also keeping track of the science concepts and concept strands in each chapter and interval pair. Don’t forget to check the notes in the back of the book and Sam Kean’s own online notes—though not required to understand the main text, these provide additional information that might be useful or entertaining (or both!). Also, though the concept strands come up repeatedly throughout the book, a given chapter may not include all six (and most interludes don’t). So, if you don’t think there is a good example, it might not be there.

After you do the reading log, you will present the chapter to your classmates, so while you are reading, think about important points you should share with your class. For example, what were the main topics and stories? How do they illustrate the concept strands? What scientific discoveries, concepts, or technology advancements were discussed? Were there any misconceptions that were corrected? What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned?

Story and science summary section
The first part of the reading long is a summary of the stories and corresponding science discoveries and technology advancements related to air and gases, including characteristics of specific gases and concepts about energy and matter that apply broadly. There may be multiple science facts, discoveries, or applications per story.

Concept strands

Strand 1 - How scientific inquiry advances: Science and engineering advance in many ways, such as building on past discoveries and developments and by gathering and incorporating new information. Scientific practice itself advances – many past experiments would not be performed today for reasons ranging from ethical considerations to improved technologies to changing standards such as the use of controls. Also, science and engineering often feed into each other. Questions to think about are:

  • How did people go about making the discoveries? For example, were they discovering something new, building on (or refuting!) past information, or trying to understand or explain previously discovered results?
  • What were the circumstances that led to the discovery happening at that time and place (for example, new technologies or recent discoveries)?
  • How did the findings become accepted by the broader scientific community?
  • Did a technological advance lead to new avenues for scientific research? Did a scientific discovery point the way for a technology advance?

Strand 2 - Correcting misconceptions: Scientific inquiry doesn’t just uncover “new” facts. Sometimes the findings also reveal that commonly held beliefs or previous scientific explanations and ideas are incorrect. Correcting these misconceptions, whether held by the general public or scientists, can be difficult. Questions to think about are:

  • Did the discoveries refute past theories or ideas held by scientists and experts?
  • Did the scientists in the stories have ideas or believe in facts that we now know are incorrect?
  • Are there topics where the public and other non-experts have misunderstandings of facts or concepts?

Strand 3 - Communicating science: Publicly sharing research results is part of the scientific process. As Sam Kean writes in Chapter Four: "Science is public, and in some sense scientific discoveries don't count until they're public." However, there are factors that can conflict with sharing knowledge, such as simply being slow to write up findings, or keeping competitors from learning valuable information, or keeping issues related to national security classified. Questions to think about are:

  • How did the people in the stories communicate their discoveries?
  • Did anything prevent them from communicating with other experts?
  • What about communicating to the public and others outside their field of research?

Strand 4 - Science and technology impact society: Science advances don’t just find their way into textbooks, they also impact society and even the progress of history. Questions to think about include:

  • How did the information discovered affect decisions people make?
  • Did the discoveries affect how people live in the short term?
  • Would our lives be different without the technologies that were developed?

Strand 5 - Society impacts science and technology: Science and engineering aren’t isolated from what is going on outside the lab. Social, cultural, economic, and political factors can all influence what topics are pursued and impact who is able to do research. Questions to think about include:

  • Did outside factors influence what research topics someone pursued?
  • Where did the funding for the research come from?
  • Did the people pursue a particular area of study because they thought it would be profitable?

Strand 6 - Science and ethics: There are many ethical issues related to science and engineering, which often cannot be resolved by science alone and generally require input from the broader society. Some relate to the practice of science, such as issues of experimenting on animals and humans. Others relate to the applications of advances, such as the use of chemical weapons. Questions to consider include:

  • Could or did the results of the discoveries or the research process itself negatively impact people, particularly those who don’t have a role in deciding what to research?
  • What parts of the experiments might be prohibited now because of issues like animal welfare or human testing?
  • Who did the work versus who got the credit?

Reading Log

Chapter or Interlude: __________________________________

Story summaries

Science discoveries, technology advancements



Concept strands

Chapter or Interval notes

Strand 1 - How scientific inquiry advances


Strand 2 - Correcting misconceptions


Strand 3 - Communicating science


Strand 4 - Science and technology impact society


Strand 5 - Society impacts science and technology


Strand 6 - Science and ethics


Did you find this resource helpful?