Synopses & Reviews
English is the language of science today. No matter which languages you know, if you want your work seen, studied, and cited, you need to publish in English. But that hasnand#8217;t always been the case. Though there was a time when Latin dominated the field, for centuries science has been a polyglot enterprise, conducted in a number of languages whose importance waxed and waned over timeand#151;until the rise of English in the twentieth century.
So how did we get from there to here? How did French, German, Latin, Russian, and even Esperanto give way to English? And what can we reconstruct of the experience of doing science in the polyglot past? With Scientific Babel, Michael D. Gordin resurrects that lost world, in part through an ingenious mechanism: the pages of his highly readable narrative account teem with footnotesand#151;not offering background information, but presenting quoted material in its original language. The result is stunning: as we read about the rise and fall of languages, driven by politics, war, economics, and institutions, we actually see it happen in the ever-changing web of multilingual examples. The history of science, and of English as its dominant language, comes to life, and brings with it a new understanding not only of the frictions generated by a scientific community that spoke in many often mutually unintelligible voices, but also of the possibilities of the polyglot, and the losses that the dominance of English entails.
Few historians of science write as well as Gordin, and Scientific Babel reveals his incredible command of the literature, language, and intellectual essence of science past and present. No reader who takes this linguistic journey with him will be disappointed.
"Science magazine reporter Kean views the periodic table as one of the great achievements of humankind, 'an anthropological marvel,' full of stories about our connection with the physical world. Funny, even chilling tales are associated with each element, and Kean relates many. The title refers to gallium (Ga, 31), which melts at 84° F, prompting a practical joke among 'chemical cognoscenti': shape gallium into spoons, 'serve them with tea, and watch as your guests recoil when their Earl Grey eats their utensils.' Along with Dmitri Mendeleyev, the father of the periodic table, Kean is in his element as he presents a parade of entertaining anecdotes about scientists (mad and otherwise) while covering such topics as thallium (Tl, 81) poisoning, the invention of the silicon (Si, 14) transistor, and how the ruthenium (Ru, 44) fountain pen point made million for the Parker company. With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surface, Kean writes with wit, flair, and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers. 10 b&w illus. (July 12)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I stayed up all night reading this book. Miodownik writes with such knowledge, such enthusiasm, such a palpable love for his subject." and#8212;Oliver Sacks, author of Hallucinations "Concrete, chocolate, paper, porcelain; this is a fascinating and informative account of the and#8216;stuffand#8217; of our everyday lives." and#8212;Penny Le Couteur, coauthor of Napoleonand#8217;s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History "It is a rare thing for a true scientist to be able to explain how things work so clearly to the laypersonand#8212;and even rarer to do so in such an entertaining fashion. No one who reads this book will look at the world quite the same again." and#8212;Kate Ascher, author of The Works, The Heights, and The Way to Go "[A] wonderful account of the materials that have made the modern worldand#8230;Miodownik writes well enough to make even concrete sparkle." and#8212;Financial Times "A deftly written, immensely enjoyable little book." and#8212;Observer (UK) "[Miodownik] makes even the most everyday seem thrilling." and#8212;The Sunday Times (UK) "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 and#8220;tell the story of stuffand#8221; 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 didnand#8217;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 and#8220;the biggest diamond yet discovered... is orbiting a pulsar starand#8221; and is and#8220;five times the size of Earth.and#8221; In his chapter on paper, he describes the book as and#8220;a fortress for words,and#8221; while he regards chocolate as and#8220;one of our greatest engineering creations.and#8221; Miodownikand#8217;s infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire readers to take a closer look at the materials around them." and#8212;Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Kean...unpacks the periodic table's bag of tricks with such aplomb and fascination that material normally as heavy as lead transmutes into gold. A-"--Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly
"Kean's writing sparks like small shocks...he gives science a whiz-bang verve so that every page becomes one you cannot wait to turn just to see what he's going reveal next."--Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe
"[Kean turns] The Disappearing Spoon into a nonstop parade of lively science stories...ebullient."--Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Kean's palpable enthusiasm and the thrill of knowledge and invention the book imparts can infect even the most right-brained reader."--Christine Thomas, Miami Herald
"With a constant flow of fun facts bubbling to the surface, Kean writes with wit, flair, and authority in a debut that will delight even general readers."--Publishers Weekly
"Nearly 150 years of wide-ranging science...and Kean makes it all interesting. Entertaining and enlightening."--Kirkus
"It happens often in biology, but only once in a rare while does an author come along with the craft and the vision to capture the fun and fascination of chemistry. Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon is a pleasure and full of insights. If only I had read it before taking chemistry." --Mark Kurlanksy, author of Salt and Cod
"If you stared a little helplessly at the chart of the periodic table on the wall of your high school chemistry class, then this is the book for you. It elucidates both the meanings and the pleasures of those numbers and letters, and does so with style and dash." --Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"The Disappearing Spoon shines a welcome light on the beauty of the periodic table. Follow plain speaking and humorous Sam Kean into its intricate geography and stray into astronomy, biology, and history, learn of neon rain and gas warfare, meet both ruthless and selfless scientists, and before it is over fall head over heels for the anything but arcane subject of chemistry." --Bill Streever, author of Cold
"The best science writers...bring an enthusiasm for the material that infects those of us who wouldn't usually give a flying proton. Sam Kean...unpacks the periodic table's bag of tricks with such aplomb and fascination that material normally as heavy as lead transmutes into gold. With the anecdotal flourishes of Oliver Sacks and the populist accessibility of Malcolm Gladwell...Kean succeeds in giving us the cold hard facts, both human and chemical, behind the astounding phenomena without sacrificing any of the wonder--a trait vital to any science writer worth his NaCl. A-" --Entertainment Weekly
"Sam Kean...is brimming with puckish wit, and his love for the elements is downright infectious. Kean's book is so rambunctious and so much fun, you'll find yourself wanting to grab someone just to share tidbits. But the alchemy of this book is the way Kean makes you see and experience and appreciate the world differently, with a real sense of wonder and a joy of discovery, that is downright elemental." --Caroline Leavitt, Boston Globe
"This is nonfiction to make you sound smart over gin and tonics: the human history behind the periodic table." --Time.com
"Sam Kean...has done something remarkable: He's made some highly technical science accessible, placed well-known and lesser-known discoveries in the contest of history and made reading about the lives of the men and women inside the lab coats enjoyable." --Austin American-Statesman
"Fascinating. Kean has Bill Bryson's comic touch when it comes to describing genius-lunatic scientists...The book is not so much a primer in chemistry as a lively history of the elements and the characters behind their discovery." --New Scientist
"A quirky and refreshingly human look at a structure we usually think of as purely pragmatic." --SeedMagazine.com
"[The Disappearing Spoon is] crammed full of compelling anecdotes about each of the elements, plenty of nerd-gossip involving Nobel prizes, and enough political intrigue to capture the interest of the anti-elemental among us. Once you're done with this book, do your chemistry teacher and all her future students a favor, and send her a copy." --Galleycat
"Kean loves a good story, and his account teems with ripping yarns, colorful characters, and the occasional tall tale of chemical invention....let us hope that Kean...continues to bring the excitement of science out of the lab and into the homes of the American reading public." --Chemical and Engineering News
"An idiosyncratic romp through the history of science. The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell....entertaining and enlightening." --Kirkus Reviews
"For centuries, scholars have written of their desire to read the Book of Nature, even as they composed their own books in a gaggle of tongues. Today, however, scientists share their work in just one: English. That unprecedented linguistic winnowing--driven as much by utopian dreams as by the shattering disruptions of war--reveals far-ranging changes in how, where, why, and by whom science has been done. Fascinating."
andldquo;Stuff Matters is about hidden wonders, the astonishing properties of materials we think boring, banal and unworthy of attention...Itandrsquo;s possible this science and these stories have been told elsewhere, but like the best chocolatiers, Miodownik gets the blend right.andquot; andmdash;The New York Times Book Review
andquot;[Ordinary objects] have found their poet in Mark Miodownik...A thrilling account of the modern material world...Though I blush to recall it, once I had the impression that materials science was dull and pedestrian. Stuff Matters has changed my mind; now I find myself running my fingers along things and sighing. Mr. Miodownikand#39;s lively, eloquent book changes the way one looks at the world.andquot; andmdash;Wall Street Journal
andquot;Midownik dives into every detail...[with] joyous curiosity.andquot; andmdash;Entertainment Weekly
andquot;Miodownik, a materials scientist, explains the history and science behind things such as paper, glass, chocolate and concrete with an infectious enthusiasm.andquot; andmdash;Scientific American
andquot;Materials scientist Miodownik intertwines humorous vignettes of daily life in London with subatomic behavior to explain the feats of engineering that brought us samurai swords, skyscrapers, pool balls and even chocolate. From concrete in Roman architecture to atom-thick graphene, Miodownik builds on a historical framework to give readers an idea of future applications. Clever in every sense of the word, Stuff Matters may leave you looking at windows rather than through them.andquot; andmdash;Discover
andquot;Stuff Matters makes the seemingly banal objects of our everyday lives into an endless source of wonder, dreams and possibility.andquot; andmdash;Salon
andquot;Superb storytelling...fascinating...a delightful book on a subject that is relatively rarely written about.andquot; andmdash;Popular Science
andquot;Entertaining and informative...[Stuff Matters] delivers on both the scientific and personal levels. Its anecdotes, inviting prose and unusual chapter titles introduce both the author and his field of research, materials science.andquot; andmdash;Dallas Morning News
andquot;I stayed up all night reading this book. Miodownik writes with such knowledge, such enthusiasm, such a palpable love for his subject.andquot; andmdash;Oliver Sacks, author of Hallucinations
andquot;Concrete, chocolate, paper, porcelain; this is a fascinating and informative account of the andlsquo;stuffandrsquo; of our everyday lives.andquot; andmdash;Penny Le Couteur, coauthor of Napoleonandrsquo;s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History
andquot;It is a rare thing for a true scientist to be able to explain how things work so clearly to the laypersonandmdash;and even rarer to do so in such an entertaining fashion. No one who reads this book will look at the world quite the same again.andquot; andmdash;Kate Ascher, author of The Works, The Heights, and The Way to Go
andquot;[A] wonderful account of the materials that have made the modern worldandhellip;Miodownik writes well enough to make even concrete sparkle.andquot; andmdash;Financial Times
andquot;A deftly written, immensely enjoyable little book.andquot; andmdash;Observer (UK)
andquot;[Miodownik] makes even the most everyday seem thrilling.andquot; andmdash;The Sunday Times (UK)andquot;Enthralling... a mission to re-acquaint us with the wonders of the fabric that sustains our lives.andquot; andmdash;Guardian (UK)
andquot;Entertaining...These materials make fascinating reading.andquot; andmdash;Materials Today (UK)
andquot;A great look at the science and stories behind the seemingly mundane substances that make up almost everything.andquot; andmdash;Physics Central
andquot;A compact, intense guided tour through a handful of physical materials, from concrete to chocolate, revealing what makes them profoundly affect our lives...[Miodownik] writes with enthusiasm, empathy and gratitude, making us care for concrete or foam as much as for Mr. Darcy or the Artful Dodger...[Stuff Matters] puts the wonder and strangeness back into all the truly magical stuff that comprises our everyday reality.andquot; andmdash;Kirkus
andquot;A fascinating introduction to materials science...Miodownikandrsquo;s infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire readers to take a closer look at the materials around them.andquot; andmdash;Publishers Weekly, starred review
andquot;Ever wonder how concrete is made? Why chocolate gets white spots when it heats up then cools down again? What makes diamond and graphite, two allotropes of carbon, behave so differently? Miodownik (materials and society, Univ. Coll. of London; Computational Materials Engineering) answers all of these questions and more through relating his personal experiences with each type of material. The author explores the worlds of the grandiose as he watches the construction of the Shard in London, Europeandrsquo;s tallest building; and the miniscule, as he examines how small pores can lead to fractures in terra cotta, but similar fractures can be stopped in plaster (like that in a cast) by applying it over cloth. Miodownik introduces enough chemistry to explain, as his title suggests, the stuff that matters, but relates the science in such a way that the book should be accessible to all readers. andshy;VERDICT Recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the materials that make up the world around them.andquot; andmdash;Library Journal, STARRED
andquot;Massive, erudite, and engaging.andquot;
andquot;Perceptive. . . . Gordinand#39;s scholarly assessment of these matters will not have Hollywood entrepreneurs scrambling for movie rights. But it is insightfully and engagingly written, a masterful mix of intelligence and style. He illuminates an important side of science with academic rigor, but without a trace of academic obfuscation. Itand#39;s a very pleasant example of the skillful use of language.andquot;
The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues' wives when she'd invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history, from the Big Bang to the end of time, it's all in The Disappearing Spoon.
The infectious tales and astounding details in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the frequently mad scientists who discovered them.
An eye-opening adventure deep inside theand#160;everyday materials that surround us,and#160;from concrete and steel to denim and chocolate, packed with surprising stories and fascinating science.
A New York Times Bestseller
An eye-opening adventure deep inside the everyday materials that surround us, packed with surprising stories and fascinating science
Why is glass see-through? What makes elastic stretchy? Why does a paper clip bend? Why does any material look and behave the way it does? These are the sorts of questions that Mark Miodownik is constantly asking himself. A globally-renowned materials scientist, Miodownik has spent his life exploring objects as ordinary as an envelope and as unexpected as concrete cloth, uncovering the fascinating secrets that hold together our physical world.
In Stuff Matters, Miodownik entertainingly examines the materials he encounters in a typical morning, from the steel in his razor and the graphite in his pencil to the foam in his sneakers and the concrete in a nearby skyscraper. He offers a compendium of the most astounding histories and marvelous scientific breakthroughs in the material world, including:
- The imprisoned alchemist who saved himself from execution by creating the first European porcelain.
- The hidden gem of the Milky Way, a planet five times the size of Earth, made entirely of diamond.
- Graphene, the thinnest, strongest, stiffest material in existenceandmdash;only a single atom thickandmdash;that could be used to make entire buildings sensitive to touch.
From the teacup to the jet engine, the silicon chip to the paper clip, the plastic in our appliances to the elastic in our underpants, our lives are overflowing with materials. Full of enthralling tales of the miracles of engineering that permeate our lives, Stuff Matters
will make you see stuff in a whole new way.
From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table.
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*
The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery--from the Big Bang through the end of time.
*Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.
About the Author
Mark Miodownik recently appeared in The Times' inaugural list of the 100 most influential scientists in the UK. He is Professor of Materials and Society at UCL and presenter of several BBC television documentaries, including How it Works and The Genius of Invention, as well as appearing as scientist-in-residence on Dara O Briain's Science Club. In 2010, he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. He is Director of the UCL Institute of Making which is home to a materials library containing some of the most wondrous matter on earth, and has collaborated to make interactive events with many museums, such as Tate Modern, the Hayward Gallery and Wellcome Collection.
Table of Contents