A really great science book with a engaging background story. This books tells how a small town suffered of ambiental pollution while recounting the emergence of the modern industry chemical giants, the development of cancer epidemiology, environmental pollution and much more. The "scientific intermissions" among the story are very well explained and really contribute to the comprehension of how the public understanding of environment pollution, economic development and health came to change from the 1950's to modern times.
I was surprised with the quality and description of science intermingled with the town story. It is a dense and long listening, full of names, chemistry and dates, but told and read in such a competent way that it is easy to follow. The author has picked the perfect time period and health drama to tell the development of the discovery of the link between cancer, environment and epidemiology. I see this book as a half way between The Imortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–with more science and a less personal touch on the human story–and The Emperor of All Maladies–with less about cancer, more about the comprehension of the environmental factors associated to its emergence and a more engaging human side.
This is all I take from this book. Some great ideas, but the author just ignores anyone else's contribution to any filed and talks mostly about how he and his students created start-ups to explore those ideas. Don't get me wrong, there's great content there, but I read a conscious effort to downplay the whole field in order to make the author's contributions sound like the only good ideas ever developed.
I love how this book touches all aspects of alcohol. From the making (and our discovery on how to do so) to fermentation, distillation, storage and ageing in barrels and drinking. I'm a scientist and have a background in every aspect os booze making, and still enjoyed new facts and science based content. I don't have one single reason not to recommend this book.
Ever since I left my dinomania behind, I still love dinosaurs, but don't have the time to read all the new science that has been produced in the last years about them. And it is so much new stuff. Brian Switek does exactly this, puts us up to date to what is currently known about dinos. He is a great science writer that I have followed for many years thorough the blog Laelaps and is completely qualified for this role.
Narrated by himself, you can hear how he came to love dinosaurs and kept this passion until adulthood, and how much about what we thought about dinosaurs changed. How they evolved, what colours they had, what sound they maid, how they behaved, how they grew so much, how they made sex and more. Well written, well explained and citing scientific sources, a great reading. My only complain is that it left me wanting more.
A great description of the importance of rabies in human history and culture, as it was the first infectious disease to have the mechanism of transmission understood. I had no idea that rabies had caused such a deep impression in human culture as described (sometimes to extensively, in my opinion). Overall a great book about disease, if you don't mind its specificity.
I have listened to two other great chemistry books (The Disappearing Spoon and uncle Tungsten), and this one is the best. The Disappearing Spoon is the most complete, with more elements and much more about the creation of the Periodical Table, and Uncle Tungsten is much more personal and anecdotal. But Napoleon's Button had the greatest descriptions and historical context to the chosen molecules. The importance of each molecule explained and the role it played in human history is clear and very well explained.
I just love Briggss' narration.
I have the impression that Pratchett's last books (like Snuff) had a more complex and entertaining plot. This one has a simple straightforward story, above Pratchett's average in my opinion, but compensates with the historical references to old London. Can't be disappointed with Pratchett stories.
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