Napoleon’s Buttons is not a history of chemistry but rather the story of how chemistry influenced history. Seventeen chapters detail how chemicals have played a crucial role in human development from ancient times to the present. A sampling of topics include:
- Spices and their role in trade,
- Ascorbic acid, scurvy and the discovery of the importance of trace chemicals and vitamins in health,
- Sugar, cotton and the slave trade,
- Explosives in engineering and warfare,
- Antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, and health, and
- Contraception and society.
Chemistry and chemical discoveries are intimately intertwined with human progress and history. Napoleon’s Buttons reads as a historical mystery, showing how human ingenuity drives technical progress and how that technical progress influences the course of history. The book presents a sophisticated discussion of chemical science in a clear way. As a non-chemist, I enjoyed learning how subtle changes in molecular shapes give rise to different molecular behaviors. Napoleon’s Buttons is well worth a read!
See also my previous post, The Tin Disease.