Napoleon's Buttons

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Napoleon's Buttons is the fascinating account of seventeen groups of molecules that have greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration, and made possible the voyages of discovery that ensued. The molecules resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine and law; they determined what we now eat, drink, and wear. A change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous alterations in the properties of a substance-which, in turn, can result in great historical shifts.

With lively prose and an eye for colorful and unusual details, Le Couteur and Burreson offer a novel way to understand the shaping of civilization and the workings of our contemporary world.
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About the author

PENNY CAMERON LE COUTEUR, PH.D., teaches chemistry at Capilano College in British Columbia, Canada, where she has been a professor for over thirty years. Winner of a Polysar Award for Outstanding Chemistry Teaching in Canadian Colleges, she was formerly the head of Capilano’s chemistry department and was chair of pure and applied sciences. She has written chemistry distance-education courses, coauthored a chemistry textbook, and served as a project adviser in chemistry for universities in eastern Indonesia. She was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and now lives in North Vancouver.

JAY BURRESON, PH.D., has worked as an industrial chemist and held a National Institutes of Health special fellowship for research on chemical compounds in marine life. He is also the general manager of a high-tech company.
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4.2
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
May 24, 2004
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9781440650321
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Applied Sciences
Science / Chemistry / General
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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'The importance of the end in view prompted me to undertake all this work, which seemed to me destined to bring about a revolution in physics and chemistry.'
Antoine Lavoisier, 1773

Great advances in human history have often rested on and prompted progress in chemistry. The exploitation of fire, the development of pigments, and the discovery that metals could be smelted and worked laid the foundations of civilization. The search for better tools and weapons drove metallurgy, and the need for medicines and perfumes lay behind the first laboratories. Our world and our bodies are immensely complex chemical systems; everything in life and matter comes down to chemistry in the end. The Story of Chemistry traces the emergence of this knowledge as humans have struggled to model and understand the world around and within them.

The origins of chemistry lie in practical applications developed in prehistory: smelting metal, cooking, and making pigments and medicines. The Ancient Greeks were the first to seek rational models to explain the behaviour and interaction of matter. Chemistry remains an innately practical science, but now has solid theoretical foundations that extend its usefulness beyond anything our ancestors could have imagined.

Our story takes us through centuries of alchemical endeavour, following gifted men who were led down the wrong path by a flawed paradigm, through the beginnings of modern chemistry in the Scientific Revolution, right up to the 21st century. En route we will see how chemistry became divorced from alchemy, with the scientific method applied first by Francis Bacon; how the theoretical groundwork of chemistry was laid by Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist; how great practical and theoretical chemists such as Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Joseph Priestley, and John Dalton uncovered the nature of gases; and how the discovery of atomic structure has ultimately explained the properties and behaviour of all matter.

Chemistry has brought huge benefits to humankind. Its practical application has given fuel to warm us, synthetic materials to enhance our lives, and medicines to cure life-threatening illnesses. Its theoretical framework enables us to explain how our bodies and the wider world work. But in the wake of these discoveries have come some immense problems, including pollution, climate change, and drug-resistant microbes. Modern chemistry uses our newfound knowledge to address these problems.

Topics include:

Prechemistry since prehistory
Alchemy and the transmutation of metals
The rise of the scientific method
Identifying the chemical elements
Understanding gases
The nature of the atom
Organic chemistry
Chemical analysis
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