Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World

Mark Miodownik, Author
Mark Miodownik. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-23604-2
Reviewed on: 03/10/2014
Release date: 05/27/2014
Miodownik, director of the Institute of Making at University College London, writes a fascinating introduction to materials science, a discipline unfamiliar to most outside it. To “tell the story of stuff” he takes a photo of himself enjoying a cup of tea on his London rooftop, and proceeds to examine 10 of the materials in the photo. These materials (concrete, glass, plastics, etc.) are ubiquitous in the modern world and possess their own chemistry and history. Miodownik includes himself in his discussions so that, in the chapter on biomaterials, readers learn about his fillings as well as his disappointment that when he broke a leg as a child he didn’t receive the same upgrades as the Six Million Dollar Man. His humor helps highlight such facts as we are one of the first generations to not taste our cutlery, due to the properties of stainless steel, or that “the biggest diamond yet discovered... is orbiting a pulsar star” and is “five times the size of Earth.” In his chapter on paper, he describes the book as “a fortress for words,” while he regards chocolate as “one of our greatest engineering creations.” Miodownik’s infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire readers to take a closer look at the materials around them. (June)
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