Synopses & Reviews
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.
"British author Aldersey-Williams, whose range includes architecture, design, and science, delves into the elemental the perfect subject matter for his lighthearted erudition. Aldersey-Williams presents a veritable blizzard of facts, anecdotes, and cultural allusions in this informative look at the world's building blocks. Beginning with gold, he ponders the intriguing question of the source of its mysterious value, quoting the ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder who wisely said, 'the first person who put gold on his fingers committed the worse crime against human life.' When pursuing chlorine, Aldersey-Williams invokes Wilfred Owen's WWI poem 'The old Lie,' comparing it to John Singer Sargent's painting, Gassed, from the same period. Seemingly unremarkable lead is unmasked as a source of two of the most formative changes in western culture: the foundation for the type in Guttenberg's printing press and ammunition. Whether discussing arsenic's poisonous past or emerald's color, which 'we are biologically programmed to appreciate,' Aldersey-Williams puts truth behind the notion 'each allocation is a little bit of our civilization.' His virtuoso tour of the periodic table reflects its full complement of the human condition. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“[A] virtuoso tour of the periodic table.” Publishers Weekly
“Aldersey-Williamss playful, hands-on approach to scientific exploration shines through the book.” Boston Globe
“[C]harming. . . . Aldersey-Williams writes with simplicity and elegance. The stories may not help you on your next chemistry test, but theyll help you appreciate the building blocks that are all around us yet all too easy to overlook.” Associated Press
For the UK edition: “[F]ascinating and beautiful. . . . If only chemistry had been like this at school. . . . [A] rich compilation of delicious tales.” Matt Ridley, < i=""> Prospect <> magazine
“A lucid, enjoyable collection . . . that, element by element, demystifies the iconic periodic table.” Kirkus Reviews
"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
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
In the spirit of A Short History of Nearly Everything comes Periodic Tales. Award-winning science writer Hugh Andersey-Williams offers readers a captivating look at the elements—and the amazing, little-known stories behind their discoveries. Periodic Tales is an energetic and wide-ranging book of innovations and innovators, of superstition and science and the myriad ways the chemical elements are woven into our culture, history, and language. It will delight readers of Genome, Einsteins Dreams, Longitude, and The Age of Wonder.
Like the alphabet, the calendar, or the zodiac, the periodic table of the chemical elements has a permanent place in our imagination. But aside from the handful of common ones (iron, carbon, copper, gold), the elements themselves remain wrapped in mystery. We do not know what most of them look like, how they exist in nature, how they got their names, or of what use they are to us. Welcome to a dazzling tour through history and literature, science and art. In Periodic Tales
, you'll meet iron that rains from the heavens and neon as it lights its way to vice. You'll learn how lead can tell your future and why zinc may one day line your coffin. You'll discover what connects the bones in your body with the White House in Washington, the glow of a streetlight with the salt on your dinner table.
From ancient civilizations to contemporary couture, from the oxygen of publicity to the phosphorous in your pee, the elements are near and far and all around us. Unlocking their astonishing secrets and colorful pasts, Periodic Tales is a passionate journey through mines and artists' studios, to factories and cathedrals, into the woods and to the sea to discover the true stories of these fascinating but mysterious building blocks of the universe.
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.
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