Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History

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Penguin, 2004 - Science - 375 pages
3 Reviews
Napoleon's Buttons is the fascinating account of seventeen groups of molecules that have greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration, and made possible the voyages of discovery that ensued. The molecules resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine and law; they determined what we now eat, drink, and wear. A change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous alterations in the properties of a substance-which, in turn, can result in great historical shifts.

With lively prose and an eye for colorful and unusual details, Le Couteur and Burreson offer a novel way to understand the shaping of civilization and the workings of our contemporary world.

 

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Napoleon's buttons: how 17 molecules changed history

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The anecdote of the titular buttons is related in the introduction: supposedly, the tin buttons on the uniforms of Napoleon's army became brittle and disintegrated in the cold Russian winter ... Read full review

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The topic of the book: Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History was about seventeen different things that greatly impacted history, and the molecules that compose them. The intended audience would be readers who enjoy connecting chemistry with history, and learning the composition of many things that incited exploration and conflict that made the world what it is today.
The point of this book was to explain the molecular composition of seventeen things that shaped the world to what it is today. The authors accomplish their goal by stating the historical significance of each item and its known molecular composition. But, some sections of the book seem outlandish and don’t seem historically significant. The goal would be accomplished better in these few outlandish sections if the authors would explain why this selection was historically significant.
For the most part, the book was clear and cohesive within each different chapter. It did not flow as a whole because each former topic barely related to the one that followed it. But, within each chapter the flow was impeccable with a clear and simple layout for each different chapter. It seemed to be written more like a series of essays rather than a legitimate book, but it was still well written for what it was.
In this book, the author did not really consider other points of view, simply because there wasn’t any other noticeable points of view.
My personal favorite parts of the book was at the beginning of each section where the authors give a history of the item and why it was significant to society. The authors did well on explaining the background of the item as well as its molecular composition, it did not seem like they did anything wrong in the making of this book. One thing they could have improved was the overall pace of the book. It seemed monotonous and droned on slowly, except for the occasional interesting bit.
I recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy connecting history with chemistry. This is because that is what this book is primarily about, making the connections between historically significant items and their composition.
This book should most definitely be kept on the list for next year’s chemistry classes. This is because it is an interesting read, while it may be “dry” for the most part, it had many interesting parts and was easy to make the connection to chemistry while reading it. This book should be added to the library’s collection because many people would find it interesting.
This book did an excellent job at serving the intended purpose. I learned many new things about chemistry. Such as the molecular composition of ascorbic acid and why it was historically significant to biochemists. I gained lots of personal interest in chemistry from reading this book because it has made me question what things are made up of and if they are significant or not. I don’t think that this book has helped me find more materials that I would want to read because this is the only book I know of so far that relates chemistry to historical significance.
 

Contents

Introduction
1
PEPPERS NUTMEG AND CLOVES
19
ASCORBIC ACID
36
GLUCOSE
54
CELLULOSE
71
NITRO COMPOUNDS
87
SILK AND NYLON
105
PHENOL
123
WONDER DRUGS
181
THE PILL
201
MOLECULES OF WITCHCRAFT
223
MORPHINE NICOTINE AND CAFFEINE
246
OLEIC ACID
270
SALT
291
CHLOROCARBON COMPOUNDS
309
MOLECULES VERSUS MALARIA
330

ISOPRENE
141
DYES
162
Epilogue
351
Copyright

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About the author (2004)

Jay Burreson, Ph.D., has worked as an industrial chemist and held a National Institutes of Health special fellowship for research on chemical compounds in marine life. He is also the general manager of a high-tech company.

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