Napoleon's Buttons

Napoleon's Buttons

How 17 Molecules Changed History

Book - 2003
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Penguin Putnam
Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a button-a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon's officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers. When temperatures drop below 56°F, tin crumbles into powder. Were the soldiers of the Grande Armée fatally weakened by cold because the buttons of their uniforms fell apart? How different our world might be if tin did not disintegrate at low temperatures and the French had continued their eastward expansion!

This fascinating book tells the stories of seventeen molecules that, like the tin of those buttons, greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration and made possible the ensuing voyages of discovery. They resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine; lie behind changes in gender roles, in law, and in the environment; and have determined what we today eat, drink, and wear.

Showing how a change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous differences in the properties of a substance, the authors reveal the astonishing chemical connections among seemingly unrelated events. Napoleon's Buttons offers a novel way to understand how our contemporary world works and how our civilization has been shaped over time.

Baker & Taylor
Describes seventeen chemical compounds in spices, textile fibers, dyes, explosives, medicines, and other substances--including the drugs that account for witches flying on broomsticks--and how they affect civilization.

Publisher: New York : Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, c2003
ISBN: 9781585422203
Branch Call Number: 540 LEC
Characteristics: 375 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Burreson, Jay 1942-


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Dec 26, 2017

More of the chemistry was new to me than the history. It gets better after the introduction.

Jul 01, 2017

I really enjoyed this book, but I've always had an interest in chemistry. There were so many compounds, which were seemingly unrelated, interwoven between the chapters. The writing style helped me to remember previous chapter material better than I normally do in popular science books. It's amazing to think that parts of human history would be entirely different if one small atom was exchanged for another - whether it be slavery or drug addiction or pesticides, etc. I wish that my chemistry courses had had a book like this in them.

If you don't have much of a chemistry background and are curious, this book does attempt to teach you some basic chemistry. I think with grade 12 chemistry or higher, it's easily understandable.

Jul 25, 2013

Finally! This was a slow, deliberate read for me. The information in this text is compelling on a lot of levels - I love the connections between chemistry, history, culture, geography, etc. The inclusion of the drawings of chemical structures was hard for me to wrap my brain around because it has been SO LONG since I've taken chemistry that a lot of it was over my head. But it was valuable in that it helped me understand how really small changes created totally different reactions in the molecules.

csmo Apr 02, 2013

an exellent study of the trade in rare natural organic compandsd andartical ones and their effects on history.

Subhajitsaha95 Jul 02, 2012

This book will help people with understand chemistry! It really helped me, and the book is really interesting!

Apr 08, 2009

Great book, combining history with basic chemistry (for the lay person). Short stories about various substances, and how they may have changed history. This book should appeal to fans of Jay Ingram and Joe Schwarcz.


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