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Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History


Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History

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    Available in PDF Format | Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History.pdf | English
    Penny Le Couteur(Author) Jay Burreson(Author) Laural Merlington(Narrator)
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 temperature 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 temperature 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 advance 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.

"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."--Booklist "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."--Kirkus Reviews "Entertaining accounts of how various objects' chemical properties might have changed history."--Library Journal "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+"--Entertainment Weekly "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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Review Text

  • By David F. Eustace on 11 April 2003

    First of all let me deal with that awkward title Napoleon's Buttons. This is an unusual book skillfully examining various what ifs throughout history. To introduce the unconventional concept, and so that we will not think this whole book is about holding up the worthy Emperor's pants, the authors deal with what held up Napoleon's retreat from Moscow: his soldiers bedraggled, downtrodden and desperate - and reduced from a strength of 600,00 to 10,000.Their hypothesis goes that as tin begins to crumble when weather cools, all the French officers and soldiers were disadvantaged by the use of tin buttons on their clothes. A few molecules within tin disintegrated in the severe weather conditions such as was experienced at that time in Russia. Napoleon's army had to hold their trousers on clumsily with their arms, and this interfered with their weapons. Had tin not been used for buttons might the army have survived 600,00 strong?Taking this concept further, - although it is probably apocryphal - the authors explore situations where the change of a few atoms in a chemical could have, or did bring about enormous world alterations as well as adjustments in society.Turning to other examples, the authors relate how Charles Goodyear using experiments on his kitchen stove in 1839, discovered how to make rubber into a practical commodity, useful through both summer and winter. Rubber today of course helps shape our world, from cars and trucks to outer space. Yet, ignoring the breakdown of some of rubber's molecules in low temperatures lead to the fatal Space Ship Challenger expedition 147 years later. There are many intriguing cases, covering a wide range of history and metals. At times though, the theory is stretched thinly; bringing Hannibal's elephants over the Alps and into the picture seems like mere filler.Unique, the book is at times also thoughtful - as in the bewitching Witchcraft section - with most of its content enlightening and groundbreaking reading.

  • By James Winter on 31 October 2005

    Great stuff, and a lovely insight into the little explored world of chemistry and biochemistry (for non scientists such as myself). Very readable, and also would make a good gift for parents or friends with a little patience and intellectual curiosity. The key to the book's value is the connections the authors draw with real world issues and objects. Suddenly all that science is very concrete, and the result is seeing things in a completely new light - essentially opening up a whole new world to the reader. Now that's worth picking up. The only reason I didn't give 5 stars was I have read some of the very best in 'crossover' science authors - Brian Greene (Elegant Universe), Dawkins etc., and the quality of writing and logical progression, though good, was not quite as sublime as these masters.

  • By hyfligh on 14 December 2010

    This book opens one's view to the link between organic chemistry and real materials. i.e. Cotton, soap, colorfast dyes, gun powder, rubber, etc. A beginning knowledge of the chemical elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen is all that is needed. It explains things in a light that is a bit entertaining as well as instructive. Historical discoveries that lead to developments in each material are sprinkled in effectively. A good book for elevating ones knowledge---I bought a copy for my 14 year old Grandson.

  • By Dylan Burns on 3 September 2015

    This is an absolutely wonderful book to read. I read it during my a-levels and it's very easy to read and even if you haven't studied chemistry in years it has helpful diagrams and explains the basic concepts. It links special molecules and the role they played in history such as ascorbic acid and scurvy on boats.

  • By Alan and Jan on 30 August 2009

    What a remarkable combination of science, history and social effects of just a few chemicals. The science (the makeup of the molecules can get a little complex but just skip if neede and enjoy.

  • By johnhinton on 26 March 2016

    Very impressed by the molecular explanations and symbology (I used to hate organic chemistry), while the stories are pleasingly human and humane. Worthwhile and inspiring.

  • By afisher84 on 20 August 2013

    Purchased after reading myself for my A-level Chemistry students, a clever blend of how Chemistry has had such an influence on history across the world.

  • By Vicente Hernández Gordo on 17 January 2016

    Very interesting. If you love chemistry, and you want learn and get fun...this is your book.

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