Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History
4 journalers for this copy...
Trade paperback from the Friends of the Library: I finally got around to reading it, thanks in part to an e-book version borrowed from the library. (Larger photo here - after following link, click on image to zoom.)
The authors cheat a bit, since many of the "molecules" are types of molecules rather than specific compounds, but it's an interesting look at a lot of stuff most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about as things (dyes, sugars, antibiotics, hallucinogens, spices) - we tend to focus more on the things they do.
In this book the authors look at the molecular structures, history, and cultural effects of all sorts of things: they're both chemists, so it can get a bit science-y in spots, but I managed even though organic chemistry was not my friend. :p
I do love the button theory of why Napoleon's invasion of Russia failed...
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My favorite chapter was "Molecules of Witchcraft," especially since one of my ancestors was accused of witchcraft in Salem. Overall, I learned some fascinating things about the historical role of various compounds.
I'm reserving this book to put back in the Biographies of Things bookbox.
ETA: Just noticed that this book was on MaryZee's wishlist when she passed. Appropriate that it ended up in her book box.
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I also enjoyed the anecdote about Leo Baekeland, who developed a synthetic plastic that he used for photographic paper. He offered his new invention to George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, planning to ask a hesitant $50,000 (and to accept half that) - only to have Eastman offer him $750,000 outright! So many inventors got stiffed in the marketplace one way or another that it was wonderful to see one getting full recognition of his work by a savvy businessman...
And there were lots more interesting tidbits here, from The Pill to nicotine and caffeine (and morphine, for a triumvirate of mood-altering chemicals) to oleic acid (from olive oil).