- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Tarcher; 1 edition (April 28, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1585422207
- ISBN-13: 978-1585422203
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 195 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #836,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History 1st Edition
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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
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"Most of us never give a thought to ... the chemicals that have changed the world. This is brought out beautifully in Napoleon's Buttons, with its brilliant blending of chemistry and culture. I found it engrossing, and a delight to read."
"Well-conceived, well-done popular science." --Booklist
"Well-conceived, well-done popular science."
"The authors unearth a wealth of anecdotes from all parts of the world and use them effectively to illustrate the technological underpinnings of modern society. Thoughtful, often surprising, smoothly written."
"Entertaining accounts of how various objects' chemical properties might have changed history."
"What does the fiery compound C17H19O3N have to do with the discovery of North America? Plenty, according to this remarkable collection of scientific sleuthings. The book's cases -- especially the chapter blaming Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign on the eponymous tin fasteners that failed to hold French uniforms together -- unfold like CSI meets the History Channel. A splendid example of better reading through chemistry. B+"
"This book is both original and fascinating; I was quickly absorbed by this refreshing mix of science and history; I learned a lot of both and read this book quite quickly for a science book."
--The Literary Flaneur --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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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