Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interesting Book

I've been reading a book called "Napoleon's Buttons - 17 Molecules That Changed History". It is written by two chemists for popular reading. 

Among the stories are: how European demand for the spice molecule piperine (the basic molecule of pepper) not only fueled early exploration, but also inspired the practice of buying and selling shares in the modern stock market. How a minor house cleaning mishap and an exploding cotton apron led to the development of modern explosives and contributed to the photography and movie industries. 

I was particularly intrigued by the chapter on Molecules of Witchcraft. Many of the women accused of witchcraft were herbalists, skilled in the use of local plants to cure disease and provide relief from pain. Some of this would seem magical. Many of these herbs inspired modern medicines. Some of them caused hallucinations (such as flying). Fascinating reading!  I'm glad my kids recommended it.  

A few atoms added here, subtracted there, is all it takes to make the difference between male and female sex characteristics, between a harmless molecule and a deadly addictive one. How that works, and indeed how culture has been shaped by chemistry, is the subject of this wonderfully readable book. 

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