Naploeon’s Buttons – How Chemistry Influenced History

Napoleons ButtonsNapoleon’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.

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