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The Life of John J. McKetta, Jr.

This biography of centenarian John J. McKetta Jr. traces his life’s journey to becoming the world’s foremost energy expert and a renowned professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

Series: Tower Books Imprint

McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin
July 2017
240 pages | 6 x 9 |

Energy recounts the life of Dr. John J. McKetta Jr., a first-generation Ukrainian American coal miner who worked his way up from the mines to become the world’s foremost energy expert, a university dean, an encyclopedia editor, and one of the most widely known and respected professors in his field. To honor his one hundredth birthday in 2015, thousands of his former students raised more than $25 million to celebrate his contributions to their lives and to chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, which rechristened his home department the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering.

In this biography, granddaughter Elisabeth Sharp McKetta retraces Dr. McKetta’s path to becoming the godfather of modern chemical engineering. She describes how he dedicated his life to supporting students throughout their careers, becoming legendary for phoning scores of them on their birthdays every year, while also showing Americans how to produce and use energy efficiently. John J. McKetta Jr.’s fascinating story has been the subject of hundreds of articles and interviews, and now Energy is the first full-length book about his remarkable life.

  • Foreword by William H. Cunningham
  • Author’s Note
  • Introduction
  • One: Coal (Childhood)
  • Two: Graphite (Coal Mining)
  • Three: Blood (College)
  • Four: Mercury (Industry + Graduate School)
  • Five: Honey (Love + Marriage)
  • Six: Chalk (A Young Professor in Texas)
  • Seven: Petroleum (Research + The Laboratory)
  • Eight: Paper (What Started the Encyclopedia)
  • Nine: Limestone (Administration + The House on the Lake)
  • Ten: Air (Piloting + Policy)
  • Eleven: Piss & Vinegar (Reputation + Retirement)
  • Twelve: Coffee (Generosity + Centenarianhood)
  • Afterword
  • Notes
  • Thanks: Copper
  • Index


ELISABETH SHARP MCKETTABoise, IdahoMcKetta teaches writing for Harvard Extension School. She is the author of The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell, The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers, and Poetry for Strangers.


“In this beautifully written book, Elisabeth Sharp McKetta has captured the deep love, respect, and joy—as well as the example—that Johnny McKetta has given us all. An ingenious, delightful read about an ingenious and delightful man.”
Jack Broodo, global business president of Dow Feedstock and Energy

“John J. McKetta’s life is an inspiration, truly a great American success story.”
James B. Rawlings, Steenbock Professor, College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison