Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson
(Putnam, 2003, 375 pages)
A chemistry professor and a chemist wrote this great book. They selected 17 molecules and told fascinating stories about them. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular molecule, its discovery, how it was used, and its impact on humans, good and bad. If you like to cook, you’ll enjoy the first three chapters. They are all food related: Peppers, Nutmeg, Cloves, Ascorbic Acid and Glucose. After you learn about how sugar plantations were established to satisfy Europe’s huge sweet tooth, you can jump to Chapter Seven: Silk and Nylon. In this chapter, you’ll learn how Nylon became the synthetic replacement for silk and how Nylon stimulated the fashion industry.
The book also discussed the negative impact some molecules had on humans such as the use of poison gas in war and the environmental consequences of the use of DDT. I found the book enjoyable and engaging. It would make excellent supplemental reading for high school and college chemistry courses, especially organic chemistry. You can totally ignore the chemical formulas and molecular structures if chemistry is not your cup of tea. Highly recommend for history and science readers.