The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus And A World Out Of Balance

Phosphorus is both integral to our agricultural system, and wreaking havoc on waterways. Read Dan Egan’s new book with SciFri this April.

illustrated stack of books with text "scifri book club"Welcome to the SciFri Book Club page about The Devil’s Element. There’s lots of ways to participate: Read the book, listen to our interview with the author, join our community space, attend an event, or send a message on the SciFri VoxPop app.

The cover of THE DEVIL'S ELEMENT by Dan Egan with a background featuring featuring maroon watercolor paper texture.

This April, the SciFri Book Club will read Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan’s The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance. Published this March, The Devil’s Element traces the history of phosphorus, and uncovers how this powerful element has been used to both greatly benefit and severely endanger human beings—and the world. Phosphorus is particularly known as a potent fertilizer, but its overuse has resulted in toxic algae blooms and poisonous waterway “dead zones.” For the element that can be used to make both rich soil and rat poison, deciding the future of phosphorus will affect how we maintain functional food systems for all of humankind.

The Devil’s Element brings together a range of topics, including chemistry, agricultural engineering, ecosystem ecology, history, energy, and more—and we’ll touch on these ideas throughout this Book Club season. You can get your copy from your local bookstore or on

This Book Club season kicks off Saturday, April 1, and you can read along with us! We’ll be (loosely) following this schedule, but all our readers are welcome to join us at their own pace:

  • Chapters 1-3 from April 1-9
  • Chapters 4-6 from April 10-16
  • Chapters 7-9 from April 17-23
  • Final thoughts from April 24-30

Plus, we’ll be hosting events throughout the month! Keep an eye out on our website or join our Events newsletter to be the first to know.

There are so many ways to dive in and participate! You can grab a copy of the book (and support the author and SciFri), read an excerpt from The Devil’s Element, join the discussion in our online Book Club community, sign up for our email newsletter, or RSVP for our upcoming Book Club events. Check out all the details below.

Grab Your Own Copy

If you’d like to purchase a physical copy, we encourage you to start local! Check out the SciFri Book Club partner bookstores and libraries—if you’re in the area, consider supporting your local bookseller or public library (plus, mention our Book Club for a percentage off your purchase at participating shops!).

Our Partners

If they don’t have the book in stock or you’d rather purchase online, you can support Science Friday by buying your copy on our page.

Save The Date: SciFri Book Club Events

Event promotional image. In top left corner, SciFri Book Club logo, with event info below: The Devil's Element: Author Dan Egan in conversation with Diana Plasker from Science Friday. April 27, 6:30pm CT, In-Person + Livestream. To the right of the frame is a picture of THE DEVIL'S ELEMENT book cover and a headshot of author Dan Egan

The Devil’s Element: In-Person and Online at Volumes Bookcafe

Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago will host environmental journalist Dan Egan in conversation about his new book all about phosphorus, a chemical element you may not think about but rules much of the world. Consider purchasing your copy to support the store!

RSVP for April 27

Join us in-person or online for a conversation with the author on the science featured in the SciFri Book Club pick for April 2023. Come with your queries and wonderings—we’ll be taking your questions in person and in the livestream comments!

The cover of THE DEVIL'S ELEMENT by Dan Egan with a background featuring featuring maroon watercolor paper texture.

SciFri Book Club April community meeting: The Devil’s Element

Want to meet other SciFri Book Club members, talk about the book selection, and find more resources for deeper learning—all without leaving your home? Our community meeting is the place for you!

RSVP for May 1

This discussion meeting will focus on themes and topics featured in The Devil’s Element. You’re welcome to join us no matter your reading progress—come chat with other science-interested folks about chemistry, agricultural engineering, ecosystem ecology, history, energy, and more.

Join Our Community Space

And as you start reading, join us on our online community space: the SciFri Book Club is on Mighty Networks, a platform where we can gather, read and discuss science books together. We’ve built this community space to create a better way for readers to stay connected with other Book Clubbers, and we hope you’ll join us there!

Join Our Community

Read An Excerpt

Not sure this is the book for you? Want to read an excerpt before you commit? We’ve got you covered.

W. W. Norton, the publisher of The Devil’s Element, has offered SciFri Book Clubbers an excerpt of the book! You can read this sample on our website.

Read the Excerpt

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Reading recommendations, straight to your inbox. We send emails a few times per week. If you want to learn more about what we’re reading, you can check it out on the SciFri Book Club homepage.


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