Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.


Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 10 - Wonder Drugs

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn about aspirin, sulfa-drugs and some antibiotics.



"As the popularity of aspirin increased, the natural sources from which salicylic acid was produced—meadowsweet and willow—were no longer sufficient to satisfy world demand. A new synthetic method using the phenol molecule as the starting material was introduced. Aspirin sales soared; during World War I the American subsidiary of the original Bayer company purchased as much phenol as possible from both national and international sources in order to guarantee an adequate supply for the manufacture of aspirin. The countries that supplied Bayer with phenol thus had reduced capacity to make picric acid (trinitrophenol), an explosive also prepared from this same starting material.  What effect this may have had on the course of World War I we can only speculate, but aspirin production may have reduced reliance on picric acid for munitions and hastened the development of TNT-based explosives."



"In the early 1930s Gerhard Dogmak, a doctor working with the IG Farben research group, decided to use a dye called prontosil red to treat his daughter, who was desperately ill with a streptococcal infection contracted from a simple pinprick. He had been experimenting with prontosil red at the IG Farben laboratory, and though it had shown no activity against bacteria grown in laboratory cultures, it did inhibit the growth of streptococci in laboratory mice. No doubt deciding he had nothing to lose, Dogmak gave his daughter an oral dose of the still-experimental dye. Her recovery was fast and complete.

It was at first assumed that the dye action—the actual staining of the cells—was responsible for the antibacterial properties of prontosil red. But researchers soon realized that antibacterial effects had nothing to do with dye action. In the human body the prontosil red molecule breaks down to produce sulfanilamide, and it is the sulfanilamide that has the antibiotic effect."



In the old days, living with a chemist was hazardous to one's health.  Either the kitchen gets used as a lab with the resultant explosions, fire-hazards and food contamination, or the humans become guinea pigs!




Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 9 - Dyes

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn how about dyes from natural products such as leaves, bark, animals and minerals, the various discoveries and inventions of synthetic dyes, the various molecular structures of dyes that produce their visible properties, and the legacy of the dye trade.


"Tyrian purple is the dibromo derivative of indigo; that is, an indigo molecule that contains two bromine atoms. Tyrian purple was obtained from an opaque mucus secreted by various species of a marine mollusk or snail, most commonly of the genus Murex. The compound secreted by the mollusk is, as in the indigo plant, attached to a glucose unit. It is only through oxidation in the air that the brilliant color of Tyrian purple develops."


"Mythology credits the discovery of Tyrian purple to the Greek hero Hercules, who observed his dog’s mouth becoming stained a deep purple color as the animal crunched on some shellfish. The manufacture of the dye is believed to have started in the Mediterranean port city of Tyre in the Phoenician Empire (now part of Lebanon). An estimated nine thousand shellfish were needed to produce one gram of Tyrian purple. Mounds of shells from Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma can still be found on the beaches of Tyre and Sidon, another Phoenician city involved in the ancient dye trade."


"In 1865 the German chemist Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer began investigating the structure of indigo. By 1880 he had found a way to make it in the laboratory from easily obtainable starting materials. It took another seventeen years, however, before synthetic indigo, prepared by a different route and marketed by the German chemical company Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF), became commercially viable.


This was the beginning of the decline of the large natural indigo industry, a change that altered the way of life for thousands whose livelihood depended on the cultivation and extraction of natural indigo. Today an annual production of over fourteen thousand tons makes synthetic indigo a major industrial dye. Though synthetic indigo (like the natural compound) notoriously lacks colorfastness, it is most often used to dye blue jeans, where this property is considered a fashion advantage. Millions of pairs of jeans are now made from specially pre-faded indigo-dyed denim. Tyrian purple, the dibromo derivative of indigo, was also produced synthetically through a process similar to indigo synthesis, although other purple dyes have superseded it."




Sourcery by Terry Pratchett - Update

Sourcery - Terry Pratchett

"The girl peered around a corner.


"We've lost them." she said.  "Stop shaking.  You're safe now."


"What, you mean I'm all alone with a female homicidal maniac?" said Rincewind.  "Fine."


She relaxed and laughed at him."



Can't really argue with that...

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett - Update

Sourcery - Terry Pratchett

"The air of expectation had even spread to the ravens who inhabited the Tower of Art, eight hundred feet high and reputedly the oldest building in the world.  Its crumbling stones supported thriving miniature forests high above the city's rooftops.  Entire species of beetles and small mammals had evolved up there and, since people rarely climbed it these days owing to the tower's distressing tendency to sway in the breeze, the ravens had it all to themselves.  Now they were flying around it in a state of some agitation, like gnats before a thunderstorm."


"These weren't ordinary ants.  Centuries of magicalleakage into the walls of the University had done strange things to them.  Some of them were pulling very small carts, some of them were riding beetles, but all of them were leaving the University as quickly as possible.  The grass on the lawn rippled as they passed.

He looked up as an elderly striped mattress was extruded from an upper window and flopped down onto the flagstones below.  After a pause, apparently to catch its breath, it rose a little from the ground.  Then it started to float purposefully across the lawn and bore down on Rincewind, who managed to jump out of its way just in time.  He heard a high-pitched chittering and caught a glimpse of thousands of determined little legs under the bulging fabric before it hurtled onward.  Even the bedbugs were on the move, and in case they didn't find such comfortable quarters wlsewhere they were leaving nothing to chance.  One of them waved at him and squeaked a greeting."


"A gritty noise made him look across the lawn. 

There was no natural explanation of this. With incredible slowness, easing themselves down parapets and drainpipes in total silence except for the occassional scrape of stone on stone, the fargoyles were leaving the roof.


It's a shame that Rincewind had never seen poor quality stop-motion photography, because then he would have known exactly how to describe what he was seeing.  the creatures didn't exactly move, but they managed to progress in a series of high speed tableaux, and lurched past him in a spindly procession of beaks, manes, wings, claws and pigeon droppings.


"What's happening?" he squeeked.


A thing with a goblin's face, harpy's body and hen's legs turned its head in a series of little jerks and spoke in a voice like the peristalsis of mountains (although the deep resonant effect was rather spoiled because, of course, it couldn't close its mouth)."



I love the mental imagery these paragraphs conjures up!


Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 8 - Isoprene

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... In which we learn about various types of rubber, how their properties change according to the orientation of the polymers, the invention/production of various "rubber" based items, the history of Rubber Tree plantations in the Amazon and Congo Basin, synthetic rubber like styrene, and the hazards of using rubber seals on the doomes space shuttle Challenger.


"CAN YOU IMAGINE what the world would be like without tires for our cars and trucks and planes? Without gaskets and fan belts for our engines, elastic in our clothes, waterproof soles for our shoes? Where would we be without such mundane but useful items as rubber bands?

Rubber and rubber products are so common that we probably never think about what rubber is and how it has changed our lives. Although mankind has been aware of its existence for hundreds of years, only in the last century and a half has rubber become an essential component of civilization. Its chemical structure gives rubber its unique properties, and the chemical manipulation of this structure produced a molecule from which fortunes have been made, lives have been lost, and countries have been changed forever."

"Latex is a colloidal emulsion, a suspension of natural rubber particles in water. Many tropical trees and shrubs produce latex, including Ficus elastica, the houseplant usually referred to as the “rubber plant.” ...Though it is neither tropical nor a Euphorbia, the humble dandelion is yet another latex producer. "


"Natural rubber is a polymer of the molecule isoprene. Isoprene, with only five carbon atoms, is the smallest repeating unit of any natural polymer, making rubber the simplest natural polymer. The first chemical experiments on the structure of rubber were conducted by the great English scientist Michael Faraday. " 


"In 1823, Charles Macintosh, a Glasgow chemist, used naphtha (a waste product from the local gas works) as a solvent to convert rubber into a pliable coating for fabric. Waterproofed coats made from this treated fabric were known as “macintoshes,” and raincoats are still called this (or “macs”) in Britain today. Macintosh’s discovery led to an increased use of rubber in engines, hoses, boots, and overshoes as well as hats and coats."




"Goodyear’s great discovery occurred in the winter of 1839, when he had been experimenting with powdered sulfur as his drying agent. He accidentally dropped some rubber mixed with sulfur on the top of a hot stove. Somehow he recognized potential in the charred glutinous mass that formed. He was now certain that sulfur and heat changed rubber in a way that he had been hoping to find, but he did not know how much sulfur or how much heat was necessary. With the family kitchen serving as his laboratory, Goodyear continued his experiments. Sulfur-impregnated rubber samples were pressed between hot irons, roasted in the oven, toasted over the fire, steamed over the kettle, and buried in heated sand.

Goodyear’s perseverance finally paid off. After five years he had hit on a process that produced uniform results: a rubber that was consistently tough, elastic, and stable in hot and cold weather. But having shown his ability as an inventor with the successful formulation of rubber, Goodyear proceeded to demonstrate his inability as a business-man. The royalties he gained from his many rubber patents were minimal. Those to whom he sold the rights, however, made fortunes from them. Despite his taking at least thirty-two cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning, Goodyear continued to experience patent infringement throughout his life. His heart was not in the business end of rubber. He was still infatuated by what he saw as the substance’s endless possibilities: rubber banknotes, jewelry, sails, paint, car springs, ships, musical instruments, floors, wetsuits, life rafts—many of which later appeared."


"Goodyear, who wasn’t a chemist, had no idea why sulfur and heat worked so well on natural rubber. He was unaware of the structure of isoprene, unaware that natural rubber was its polymer and that, with sulfur, he had achieved the all-important cross-linking between rubber molecules. When heat was supplied, sulfur atoms formed cross-links that held the long chains of rubber molecules in position. It was more than seventy years after Goodyear’s fortuitous discovery—named vulcanization after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan—before the English chemist Samuel Shrowder Pickles suggested that rubber was a linear polymer of isoprene and the vulcanization process was finally explained.

The elastic properties of rubber are a direct result of its chemical structure. Randomly coiled chains of the isoprene polymer, on being stretched, straighten out and align themselves in the direction of the stretch. Once the stretching force is removed, the molecules reform coils. The long flexible chains of the all-cis configuration of the natural rubber molecule do not lie close enough together to produce very many effective cross-links between the chains, and the aligned molecules can slip past one another when the substance is under tension. Contrast this with the highly regular zigzags of the all-trans isomer. These molecules can fit closely together, forming effective cross-links that prevent the long chains from slipping past one another—stretching is not possible. Thus gutta-percha and balata, trans isoprenes, are hard, inflexible masses, while rubber, the cis isoprene, is a flexible elastomer."

"Without rubber the enormous changes brought on by mechanization would not have been possible. Mechanization requires essential natural or man-made rubber components for machines—belts, gaskets, joints, valves, o-rings, washers, tires, seals, and countless others. Mechanized transportation—cars, trucks, ships, trains, planes—has changed the way we move people and goods. Mechanization of industry has changed the jobs we do and the way we do them. Mechanization of agriculture has allowed the growth of cities and changed our society from rural to urban. Rubber has played an essential part in all these events."







The Accidental Species by Henry Gee

The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution - Henry Gee

TITLE:  The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution


AUTHOR:  Henry Gee




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9780226284880




"The idea of a missing link between humanity and our animal ancestors predates evolution and popular science and actually has religious roots in the deist concept of the Great Chain of Being. Yet, the metaphor has lodged itself in the contemporary imagination, and new fossil discoveries are often hailed in headlines as revealing the elusive transitional step, the moment when we stopped being “animal” and started being “human.” In The Accidental Species, Henry Gee, longtime paleontology editor at Nature, takes aim at this misleading notion, arguing that it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works and, when applied to the evolution of our own species, supports mistaken ideas about our own place in the universe. Gee presents a robust and stark challenge to our tendency to see ourselves as the acme of creation. Far from being a quirk of religious fundamentalism, human exceptionalism, Gee argues, is an error that also infects scientific thought. Touring the many features of human beings that have recurrently been used to distinguish us from the rest of the animal world, Gee shows that our evolutionary outcome is one possibility among many, one that owes more to chance than to an organized progression to supremacy. He starts with bipedality, which he shows could have arisen entirely by accident, as a by-product of sexual selection, moves on to technology, large brain size, intelligence, language, and, finally, sentience. He reveals each of these attributes to be alive and well throughout the animal world—they are not, indeed, unique to our species.

The Accidental Species combines Gee’s firsthand experience on the editorial side of many incredible paleontological findings with healthy skepticism and humor to create a book that aims to overturn popular thinking on human evolution—the key is not what’s missing, but how we’re linked.




Henry Gee provides a clearly written, popular science book that puts evolution in general, and human evolution in particular, in perspective.  The book also provides the reader with an understanding of science in general, and specifically the spotty nature of the fossil record and what information can and cannot be gleaned from it.  I found the occassional dry humour entertaining.  This is a book for the interested lay person, packed with relevant and important information, but not stuffed with excessive details or even indepth commentary.  The Accidental Species is a book that provides food for thought and encourages (or provokes, as the case may be) discussion.



Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 7 - Phenol

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

A few interesting bits:


"THE VERY FIRST totally man-made polymer was produced about twenty-five years before Du Pont’s nylon. It was a somewhat random cross-linked material made from a compound whose chemical structure was similar to some of the spice molecules to which we attributed the Age of Discovery. This compound, phenol, started another age, the Age of Plastics. Linked to such diverse topics as surgical practices, endangered elephants, photography, and orchids, phenols have played a pivotal role in a number of advances that have changed the world."

"Coal tar was a viscous, black, acrid-smelling liquid that would eventually prove an amazingly prolific source for a number of important aromatic molecules. Not until huge reservoirs of natural gas, consisting mainly of methane, were discovered in the early part of the twentieth century did the coal-gasification process and its accompanying production of coal tar decline. Crude carbolic acid, as first used by Lister, was a mixture distilled from coal tar at temperatures between 170°C and 230°C. It was a dark and very strong-smelling oily material that burned the skin. Lister was eventually able to obtain the main constitutent of carbolic acid, phenol, in its pure form as white crystals.

Phenol is a simple aromatic molecule consisting of a benzene ring, to which is attached an oxygen-hydrogen or OH group."

"It is somewhat water soluble and is very soluble in oil. Lister made use of these characteristics by developing what became known as the “carbolic putty poultice,” a mixture of phenol with linseed oil and whitening (powdered chalk). The resultant paste (spread on a sheet of tinfoil) was placed poultice side down on the wound and acted like a scab, providing a barrier to bacteria. A less concentrated solution of phenol in water, usually about one part of phenol to between twenty and forty parts of water, was used to wash the skin around a wound, the surgical instruments, and the surgeon’s hands, and it was also sprayed onto an incision during an operation."

"By 1907, using a reaction in which he was able to control both heat and pressure, Baekeland had produced a liquid that rapidly hardened into a transparent, amber-colored solid conforming exactly to the shape of the mold or vessel into which it was poured. He named the material Bakelite and called the modified pressure cooker-like device used to produce it the Bakelizer. We can perhaps excuse the self-promotion inherent in these names when we consider that Baekeland had spent five years working with this one reaction in order to synthesize this substance."

"By investing in Baekeland’s invention for photographic paper, George Eastman was able to offer a better film that, together with the introduction in 1900 of a very inexpensive camera—the Kodak Brownie, which sold for one dollar—changed photography from a pursuit of the wealthy to a hobby available to everyone. Eastman’s investment financed the development—with phenol as a starting material—of the first truly synthetic material of the Age of Plastics, Bakelite, used to make the insulators necessary for the widespread use of electrical energy, a major factor in the modern industrial world."




A Cabinet of Greek / Roman Curiosities by J.C. McKeown

A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization - J.C. McKeown A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire - J.C. McKeown

AUTHOR:  J.C. McKeown


TITLE:  A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities


TITLE:  A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities





Both these books are a collection of snipets of ancient Greek or Roman text or some amusing Greek or Roman factoid or a random rumour that some ancient scholar wrote down - generally without any (or minimal) context.  The snipets are grouped according to topic.  The first few chapters of each book were ok, sometimes interesting (the science and technology sections), sometimes daft, but after a while the whole thing just got boring and monotonous.  If anyone does read this I recommend reading one chapter or a few snipets at a time, instead of the whole thing in one sitting.


WARNING:  Cruelty to animals.  Apparently the Ancient Greeks and Roman were just as barbaric as everyone else.




Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 6 - Silk & Nylon

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

"EXPLOSIVE MOLECULES may seem very remote from the images of luxury, softness, suppleness, and sheen conjured up by the word silk. But explosives and silk have a chemical connection, one that led to the development of new materials, new textiles, and by the twentieth century, a whole new industry."


"The properties of silk that have long made it so desirable—its caressing feel, its warmth in cool weather and coolness in hot weather, its wonderful luster, and the fact that it takes dyes so beautifully—are due to its chemical structure. Ultimately it was the chemical structure of this remarkable substance that opened trade routes between the East and the rest of the known world."


In this chapter we learn about the fascinating history of silk, it's manufacture from silk worms in Ancient China, the trade in silk across the "Silk Road" and the eventual manufacture of silk in the West.

"For centuries, long after the opening of the trade routes through Central Asia collectively known as the Silk Road, the Chinese kept the details of silk production a secret. The path of the Silk Road varied over the centuries, depending mostly on the politics and safety of the regions along the way. At its longest it extended some six thousand miles from Peking (Beijing), in eastern China, to Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul) in present-day Turkey, and to Antioch and Tyre, on the Mediterranean, with major arteries diverting into northern India. Some parts of the Silk Road date back over four and a half millennia."

"The Chinese, to maintain their monopoly on production, made attempts to smuggle silkworms, silkworm eggs, or white mulberry seeds from China punishable by death. But as the legend goes, in 552 two monks of the Nestorian church managed to return from China to Constantinople with hollowed-out canes that concealed silkworm eggs and mulberry seeds. This opened the door to silk production in the West. If the story is true, it is possibly the first recorded example of industrial espionage."


We also learn about the chemical structure of silk, which is a protein, and how this influences its physical properties such as its sheen, sparkle and smooth feel.


The author's also explore the search for synthetic silk - flammable Chardonnet silk, rayon and eventually, nylon.


The Trojan Horse Pandemic by Veronica Preda

The Trojan Horse Pandemic: A Struggle for World Domination - Veronica Preda, Robin Wildt Hansen

TITLE:  The Trojan Horse Pandemic: A Struggle for World Domination


AUTHOR:  Veronica Preda



"An archaeological expedition finds an object which many scholars claimed to be a myth: the Trojan Horse. Far from what people had imagined, the Horse turns out to be a quartz statue. As it starts a tour of the greatest museums in the world, however, a mysterious ailment follows in the wake of the Trojan Horse. Caught in the vortex of events, with no proof and few resources, doctor Timea Dulay fights to prove her theory and find a cure. Why are so many people falling ill after seeing the Horse? Why is the exhibition not stopped? What is the connection with Ulysses - the foul-mouthed artificial intelligence system that powered the submarine that found the Horse? Who is really behind all this? Will Timea manage to hold onto her marriage as she battles for the truth - a battle that soon proves to be for the survival of the human race as we know it? "




I couldn't resist reading a book that involves finding the Trojan Horse.  This is an entertaining, fast paced novella with an unexpected twist at the end.  I look forward to more stories by this author.



The Graphene Revolution by Brian Clegg

The Graphene Revolution: The weird science of the ultra-thin (Hot Science) - Brian Clegg

TITLE:  The Graphene Revolution: The Weird Science of the Ultra-thin


AUTHOR:  Brian Clegg




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  9781785783760



"In 2003, Russian physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov found a way to produce graphene – the thinnest substance in the world – by using sticky tape to separate an atom-thick layer from a block of graphite.

Their efforts would win the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics, and now the applications of graphene and other ‘two-dimensional’ substances form a worldwide industry.

Graphene is far stronger than steel, a far better conductor than any metal, and able to act as a molecular sieve to purify water. Electronic components made from graphene are a fraction of the size of silicon microchips and can be both flexible and transparent, making it possible to build electronics into clothing, produce solar cells to fit any surface, or even create invisible temporary tattoos that monitor your health.

Ultra-thin materials give us the next big step forward since the transistor revolutionised electronics. Get ready for the graphene revolution.




Clegg has written a rather short, but understandable, book about graphene and other ultra-thin materials, that covers everything from the "discovery" of graphene using sticky tape, to the interactions and bonds between atoms (i.e. the essence of matter), quantum physics, the history of quantum physics and atomic structure, other ultra-thin materials such as boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide, to the implications and potential uses of these ultra-thin materials.  The scientific explanations were alright, though quantum physics still smacks like "Star Trek physics".  I did find the rather extensive biographies of Geim and Novoselov, and mentions of everyone even vaguely related to atomic structure elucidations and quantum physics to be a bit tedious.  A nicely written book about an interesting subject.  Illustrations would have been nice though.


What is Graphene? - Nanowerk.com


Engineer Brings New Twist to Sodium-Ion Battery Technology with Discovery of Flexible Molybdenum Disulfide Electrodes


Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 5 - Nitro-Compounds

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn about explosive compounds, such as gunpowder, TNT, dynamite; and the commerical production of ammonia.


... in which we learn why these explosive compounds explode.


... in which we learn that Alfred Bernard Nobel (of Nobel Prize fame) owned several factories that manufactured and sold explosives, and it is the profits from this international business and estate that funds the Nobel prizes.




"Although the structures of explosive molecules vary widely, most often they contain a nitro group. This small combination of atoms, one nitrogen and two oxygens, NO2, attached at the right position, has vastly increased our ability to wage war, changed the fate of nations, and literally allowed us to move mountains."



"The production of gases and their consequent fast expansion from the heat of the reaction is the driving force behind explosives. Gases have a much greater volume than do similar amounts of solids or liquids. The destructive power of an explosion is due to the shock wave caused by the very rapid increase in volume as gases form. The shock wave for gunpowder travels around a hundred meters per second, but for “high” explosives (TNT or nitroglycerin, for example) it can be up to six thousand meters per second."


"The role of explosive nitro molecules has not been confined to wars and terrorism. There is evidence that the power of the saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal mixture was used in mining in northern Europe by the early 1600s. The Malpas Tunnel (1679) of the Canal du Midi in France, the original canal linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, was just the first of many major canal tunnels built with the help of gunpowder. The 1857-1871 building of the Mont Cenis or Fréjus railway tunnel, through the French Alps, was the largest use of explosive molecules of the time, changing the face of travel in Europe by allowing easy passage from France to Italy. The new explosive nitroglycerin was first used in construction in the Hoosac railway tunnel (1855-1866) at North Adams in Massachusetts. Major engineering feats have been accomplished with the aid of dynamite: the 1885 completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, allowing passage through the Canadian Rockies; the eighty-kilometer-long Panama Canal, which opened in 1914; and the 1958 removal of the navigational hazard Ripple Rock off the west coast of North America—still the largest-ever nonnuclear explosion."


"From Vasco da Gama’s defeat of the rulers of Calicut, through the conquest of the Aztec empire by Hernán Cortés and a handful of Spanish conquistadors, to the British army’s Light Cavalry Brigade charge of Russian field batteries in the 1854 Battle of Balaklava, explosive-propelled weapons have had the advantage over bows and arrows, spears, and swords. Imperialism and colonialism—systems that have molded our world—depended on the power of armaments. In war and in peace, from destroying to constructing, for worse or for better, explosive molecules have changed civilization."





The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore

The Inflamed Mind: A radical new approach to depression - Edward Bullmore

TITLE:  The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression


AUTHOR:  Edward Bullmore




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781780723501



Worldwide, depression will be the single biggest cause of disability in the next 20 years. But treatment for it has not changed much in the last three decades. In the world of psychiatry, time has apparently stood still... until now. In this game-changing book, University of Cambridge Professor Edward Bullmore reveals the breakthrough new science on the link between depression and inflammation of the body and brain. He explains how and why we now know that mental disorders can have their root cause in the immune system, and outlines a future revolution in which treatments could be specifically targeted to break the vicious cycle of stress, inflammation and depression. The Inflamed Mind goes far beyond the clinic and the lab, representing a whole new way of looking at how mind, brain and body all work together in a sometimes misguided effort to help us survive in a hostile world. It offers insights into the story of Western medicine, how we have got it wrong as well as right in the past, and how we could start getting to grips with depression and other mental disorders much more effectively in the future. "




Prof. Bullmore makes an intersting case that most cases of depression are caused by physical inflamation.  He also briefly covers the history of immunology and psychiatry/psychology, as well as providing a nice explanation of how the immune system and blood-brain barrier work.  I found the placement of the history section in the middle of chapters rather jarring, and the extra bits about Descartes rather irrelevant, but overall the book was informative. 


Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 4 - Cellulose

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn:


- about cotton, the slave trade and the industrial revolution;




- that "cotton consists of over 90 percent cellulose, which is a polymer of glucose and a major component of plant cell walls";




- about the structural differences between cellulose and starch and why one is digestable by humans, but not the other;


- how cellulose makes a big bang - literally.


- about the invention of nitrocellulose, celluloid, cellophane, and rayon.



"By the 1830s it was found that cellulose would dissolve in concentrated nitric acid and that this solution, when poured into water, formed a highly flammable and explosive white powder. Commercialization of this compound had to wait until 1845 and a discovery by Friedrich Schönbein of Basel, Switzerland. Schönbein was experimenting with mixtures of nitric and sulfuric acids in the kitchen of his home, against the wishes of his wife, who perhaps understandably had strictly forbidden the use of her residence for such activities. On this particular day his wife was out, and Schönbein spilled some of the acid mixture. Anxious to clean up the mess quickly, he grabbed the first thing that came to hand—his wife’s cotton apron. He mopped up the spill and then hung the apron over the stove to dry. Before long, with an extremely loud bang and a great flash, the apron exploded. How Schönbein’s wife reacted when she came home to find her husband continuing his kitchen experiments on cotton and the nitric acid mix is not known. What is recorded is what Schönbein called his material—schiessbaumwolle, or guncotton. Cotton is 90 percent cellulose, and we now know that Schönbein’s guncotton was nitrocellulose, the compound formed when the nitro group (NO2) replaces the H of OH at a number of positions on the cellulose molecule. Not all these positions are necessarily nitrated, but the more nitration on cellulose, the more explosive is the guncotton produced."


"Nitrocellulose (guncotton) was one of the very first explosive organic molecules made by man, and its discovery marked the start of a number of modern industries originally based on nitrated forms of cellulose: explosives, photography, and the movie business. The synthetic textile industry, with its beginnings from rayon—a different form of cellulose—has played a significant role in shaping the economy over the last century. Without these applications of the cellulose molecule, our world would be a very different place."



Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 3 - Glucose

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn:


-how sugar influenced the salve trade and the industrial revolution;

-about the different types of sugar molecules and what they look like;

-why certain people are lactose intolerant;

-the effect of glucose on the brain;

-about the relationship between the chemical structure of a molecule and its sweetness;

-about artificial sweetners and why they are perceived as sweet.



In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire


"This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.




A lovely addition to the Wayward Children series.  The writing is beautiful, the world building fascinating, the story entertaining but sad.



Currently reading

Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago by Douglas H. Erwin
Skeletons: The Frame of Life by Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams