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

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

Title: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
Author: Mark Miodownik
Genre: science, nonfiction
Release: 2014
Blurb (Goodreads): An 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 a globally-renowned materials scientist has spent his life exploring In this book he 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.

5 out of 5 topazes

One of my New Year’s reading resolutions is to read more nonfiction. I actually love nonfiction, but I just don’t read enough of it. I got this book around, oh, 2015, maybe even 2014 – not for myself, but for my sister. She never read it, and I haven’t either…until now as part of my regimen to read more broadly this year.

I finished this book in two days, and I don’t understand why it took me so damn long to read it. Because it is – as the British say – brilliant.

I’ve learned more about steel, concrete, glass, plastic, even chocolate, than I ever have in any science class. My brain is inundated with cool scientific facts as well as historical data that opened me up to a new world of scientists and engineers – both old and new – whom I have never heard of until reading this book.

My favorite chapters are “Indomitable” and “Fundamental” where Miodownik talks about steel and concrete, respectively. In the former chapter, I learn why paper clips bend (because of dislocations!) and why our spoons and forks are tasteless (because of the layer of chromium oxide!). In the latter chapter, I learn that concrete never dries but rather, is waterproof and about self-cleaning concrete where microscopic bacteria within it purifies the substance.

I also learn about the different types of cocoa butter crystals that make up chocolate, how aerogel captured the first ever stardust in space, why pool balls used to explode, the fundamentals behind bulletproof glass, why graphite conducts electricity, that there is a stronger material than diamond called lonsdaleite, the importance of kaolin in porcelain, and how body parts can be created out of a 3D printer and stem cells.

And more.

I’m not a science buff. I mean, I like learning about science (I’d like to think that I’m a collector of random scientific tidbits), but in my day-to-day life, I’m so far removed from the world of STEM – I study English, I want to be an author, and my close friends are all trying to find their places in the humanities. This fact is probably the main reason why I strayed away from reading this book for so long – it’s, for all intents and purposes, a scientific book. It has some history, sure, and a lot of humor, but it talks about atoms, cells, planes, refraction, and any other process that you can think of. However, I never once felt lost reading this book.

Miodownik explains far-off concepts to a wee English major like myself in a way that makes me go, “Wait, I could totally major in quantum mechanics.” (The real answer: No, I cannot.) Not only that, but his writing is just lovely. Take a look at this:

As I stood on a train bleeding from what would later be classified as a thirteen-centimeter stab would, I wondered what to do. It was May 1985, and I had just jumped on to a London Tube train as the door closed, shutting out my attacker, but not before he had slashed my back. The wound stung like a very bad paper cut, and I had no idea how serious it was, but being a schoolboy at the time, embarrassment overcame any sort of common sense. So instead of getting help, I decided the best thing would be to sit down and go home, and so, bizarrely, that is what I did.

Miodownik, page ix

That is how the book starts. Tell me you haven’t read a more engaging opening than this one up here. His voice leaps off the page – it’s witty, a little bit snarky at times, and definitely engaging that I’m left both educated and entertained. He perfectly balances science with humor, and I especially loved it when he talks about his personal experiences with said materials – because he has a lot of odd ones.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World is a wonderful book that everybody should read. It is chock full with facts that I know I will come back to this book time and time again just to remind myself that this is how the world works. And even better, now I have tidbits of cool information to share to my friends and family – ones that will surely make them go, “Wait, are you sure you don’t major in quantum mechanics?”

Read: 1/01/20 – 1/02/20

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