Napoleon's Buttons

  • by Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson
  • Narrated by Laural Merlington
  • 11 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Napoleon's Buttons is the fascinating account of 17 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, Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson offer a novel way to understand the shaping of civilization and the workings of our contemporary world.


What the Critics Say

"Well-conceived, well-done popular science." (Booklist)


See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Wish one of the authors would have read this book

Napoleon's Buttons is a well written book for a popular audience about the influence of organic chemistry and organic compounds on human history -- how rare is that! Like other books with similar content (e.g. The Disappearing Spoon), this book is structured to allow the listener stop and easily pick it up the flow later -- a good feature for commuters like me.

Regrettably, Laural Merlington's mispronunciation of countless chemical and other scientific terms really detracted from what was overall a fine performance. Example: She seemed to have a little trouble with her "a" sounds; she pronounced lactase "LACT ahhhz" -- fine if you're speaking French, but in English we use a long "a" as in "ace" -- and estradiol "es TRAY deeyol" -- I had to hear this word at least three times before I figured out what she was saying. (People familiar with this steroid say it "es trah DYE ol" -- because it is an estrogen steroid with two -OH groups on the steroid (i.e. a diol)). Another example: At one point during the discussion of antibiotics, she pronounced para-aminobenzoic acid "p amnio benzoic acid" at least six times in two consecutive paragraphs, even though she had said it correctly at a previous point. The upshot of all this criticism is that either the narrator or one of the other folks in the studio should have been a person with a scientific background, who would have known (and more important, would have cared) how to pronounce these words. It would have been ideal if one of the authors had narrated.

My one critique directed at the text itself is that the lengthy, preambular history of persecution of alleged witches in Chapter 12, on alkaloids, created an unnecessary delay on the way to the real content of this chapter: the historical connections to the compounds and their sources. This chapter would have stood up well on its own without the background information.

Read full review

- A.J.


I was looking forward to this book and hoping it to be as informative and entertaining as The Disappering Spoon, but was disappointed. Instead of a history of molecules it was more a politcal commentary about the ramifications of slavery. I'm sorry I wasted my credit on it.
Read full review

- L.L.W. "L.L.W"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-10-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio