Napoleon’s Buttons***

Napoleon’s Buttons

Imagine that you’re a soldier in Napoleon’s army. The year is 1812 and unfortunately, you were unlucky enough to be stationed in Russia. Even though it is summer, General Snow is blowing the cold into your bones. Each day, your troupe suffers heavy losses; eventually, your army retreats, and you are one of the few to survive.

Although many claim that Napoleon’s defeat had to do more with military tactics than science, Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson, authors of “Napoleon’s Buttons”, argue that chemistry played a significant role. They tell the story of 17 molecules that changed the course of history, from the way that tin buttons on French army uniforms crumbled in the cold to the incredible distances people would travel for just a little spice in their food.

This book features such stars of the microscopic world like glucose – which has fueled our brains for centuries – and alkaloids – hallucinogenic compounds that drove the mania of witch trails. The chapters answer why we travel the globe in search of blue dye and how a tiny neurotransmitter called caffeine has distributed itself around the world. By focusing on the microcosm of molecular makeup, LeCouteur and Burreson introduce to a comic book world where atoms are both superheroes and villains.

***For Upper School and above