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Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Women who use birth control pills probably care more about their effectiveness than about how they actually work, and although ignorance here may be bliss, it also cheats one of a good science story, involving a driven chemist making a serendipitous discovery about cortisone. Le Couteur and Burreson roll out 17 episodes selected for their salience in affecting health as well as history at large. This pair of chemists doesn't overinterpret a particular chemical as a historical influence but makes speculating on, say, piperene, a sporting diversion. Piperene is the molecule that causes taste buds to sting from pepper. Venice had a monopoly on the pepper trade, which rivals wished to break, motivating the voyages of discovery. Although connections frame the authors' tales (the title refers to tin buttons, which contributed to Napoleon's defeat in Russia), each story dwells on its molecular protagonist. The authors diagram the formula and shape of each, from the polymer behind the sheen in silk to the ionic bonds in the taste of salt. Well-conceived, well-done popular science. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Well-conceived, well-done popular science." ---Booklist
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The chapter on oleic acid (olive oil) was particularly interesting. I now understand what is meant by "saturated fat", "monounsaturated fat" and "trans-fat", and why soap works. A lot of information, easily absorbed.
My only quibble is that the authors thought they had to conclude each chapter with a few paragraphs about "how this molecule changed history". That got tiresome, fast.
For those who are infrequent or sporadic readers, the division of the book made it easy and enjoyable to read for someone who usually only read in-between class periods. I found chapters easily digestible, full of historical and scientific information, and even found myself surprised when I had a fair knowledge of the topic at hand.
What I enjoyed most about the book though, was the fact that almost every molecule is commonplace today. There's nothing so far from popular culture that everyday people won't understand. Sure, most people may not know all the scientific names of witch herbs, but everyone's heard of the witch trials. Other sections like "The Pill" show just how relevant some of these molecules really are. Even without scientific designation or more descriptive detail, almost everyone is aware of what "the pill" is even with such an innocuously vague name.
All in all, you could do way worse for required reading or scientific literature.
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