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Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World [Kindle Edition]

Mark Miodownik
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (210 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 existence—only a single atom thick—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.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

University professor Miodownik accomplishes a bit of a miracle here by making a discussion of materials science not only accessible but witty as well. Spinning out of a surprisingly personal introduction, this Bill Brysonesque study of steel, paper, chocolate, and more takes readers deeply inside the history of the 11 common materials captured in a photograph taken of the author relaxing on his outdoor deck. Miodownik has a genial style as he dives into the science of chemical compositions with aplomb, then pivots into thoughtful considerations of wine glasses, wrapping paper, joint replacements, and the concrete construction of the John F. Kennedy International Airport. With boundless enthusiasm, he turns considerations of the most mundane of topics into dazzling tours of ancient Rome and Willy Wonka’s factory, along with a look at the intricacies of Samurai sword making. At a time when science is maligned, first-rate storyteller Miodownik entertains and educates with pop-culture references, scholarly asides, and nods to everyone from the Six Million Dollar Man to the Luminère brothers. A delight for the curious reader. --Colleen Mondor


"Miodownik's infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire [listeners] to take a closer look at the materials around them." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 34220 KB
  • Print Length: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 27, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E78IFV2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,535 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Look at How Amazing Common Materials Can Be April 13, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Until recently I had never heard the words 'material science.' Sue I knew there were all kinds of amazing things done to make stuff in our lives, stronger, thinner, cheaper, better, and more energy efficient. But, being a child of the 60's I just figured this was 'better living through chemistry."

Boy was I wrong. And how wonderfully Miodownik has opened this world up in this delightful book. By taking ten ordinary materials you see in one picture, he constructs a marvelous world. Each chapter is named for a property of the material, and each begins from a very simple point. Some talk about the history of the material, others about its chemical structure, and others with a story from his life.

Using this as a starting point, he takes you deeper and deeper into this material and what makes it marvelous. For example I had no idea there were 5 or 6 different crystal structures for chocolate and why some of them make better candy than others. The book is full of these delightful bits of information.

Miodownik's style is a wonderful one for the layperson. Although he clearly knows so much more than he's telling you (and no doubt can say it much more technically), you always understand his terms, you don't fell burdened by too many formulas -- he always brings the discussion back to stuff we understand: paper money, movies, tea cups, stainless steel forks. What I love best is how his absolute delight in the materials of this world -- stuff -- comes through.

One very tiny warning:. Miodownik is British and uses British terms. Most of the time this isn't a problem, you'll know what he means, but once it tripped me up. In his chapter on foam, he talks about "jelly." To an American this is the stuff in jars that you spread on toast.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science Made Enjoyable May 3, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I loved this book.

I'd never heard about "material science" when I went to school, but biology left me cold, chemistry was absorbing in the laboratory, but the mathematical portion of the course was over my head. Needless to say, after that, physics was out. :-) But earth science I loved, and I would have loved a course on material science, especially if Mark Miodownik was the teacher. I found myself smiling as I read the science behind the everyday things in our lives: concrete, steel, paper, glass—even chocolate—and the most enjoyable part was that his prose was illuminating and the scientific concepts were clearly explained. Instead of being puzzled by the concepts, I found them completely understandable. Perhaps, for people who are more science-oriented it might have been simplistic, but I found it fascinating, especially the chapter about the silica aerogel.

Miodownik has an easygoing writing style that I really enjoyed, reminding me of Bill Bryson and James Burke. My only problem with this book is that I wish it could have been twice as long! I'll be looking forward to his next book, especially if concerning the same subject.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We have two sons who are currently studying in the fourth- and fifth grades. They are sponges, absolutely ripe for music, math, language and science, especially when it is delivered in as entertaining a form as Mark Miodownik's Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World.

I picked up the book for myself, having just finished a couple rather dour non-fiction books on politics and race relations. Miodownik's enthusiasm for his subject and his cheery writing style captured my attention from the first chapter.

His book is a fascinating read delivered in a conversational style that makes it easy to share with my 11-year old and 10-year old sons. That's a rare treat in this medium, whereas we often share science documentaries on the Discovery Channel or PBS. I'm looking forward to having my sons share the book next with their grandfather next.

The book has a charming ability that makes it difficult to look at these materials - glass, concrete, steel and plastic - the same way again.

Rating: Five stars

On a related note, I've recently reviewed two illustrated books from DK Publishing that are for the young adult audience. I recommend both History Year by Year and Firearms: An Illustrated History and would love to see a similar treatment applied to Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In 1985, a stranger stabbed a schoolboy named Mark Miodownik in the back with a razor blade, inflicting a stab wound measuring thirteen centimeters. What the victim took away from this experience, besides the pain and an unsightly scar, was a feeling of awe that such a small weapon, "not much bigger than a postage stamp," could penetrate five layers of clothing. "The birth of my obsession with materials," Miodownik states, began that day. Mark started to ask questions about what makes substances behave the way they do and he has never stopped looking for answers. He studied at Oxford, became an engineer, and is now a professor of materials science at University College London.

In his fact-filled and entertaining book, "Stuff Matters," Miodownik tells us about the history, composition, and benefits of specific materials, some of which are commonly used but not fully understood by the average individual. Miodownik provides intriguing information that will propel readers to look at a drinking glass, stainless steel spoon, chocolate bar, book, plastic bag, concrete building, diamond ring, and even a pencil with new eyes. From the Stone Age to the present, materials have defined periods of human existence. During the Victorian era, steel was king. Silicon defined the twentieth century and helped create the information revolution that makes our high-tech lives possible. Miodownik also discusses how we interact with materials at a physical and emotional level. Are the things that we build, ingest, and wear merely practical or do they appeal to one or more of our five senses? Medically, we rely on materials more than ever before.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Enjoyed it very much. Learned a lot about everyday items in a way that was understandable. I would recommend it.
Published 12 hours ago by jgs
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything Matters
Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik tells the story of several things (like porcelain, paper, and graphite) that are common in our world and we tend to take for granted. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Heather E. Hejduk
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Short essays on tonics one wonders about but can,t remember when you have the time
Published 9 days ago by Margaret Fritz Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun to Learn
Mark Miodownik provides a light, usually amusing, romp through the everyday materials that surround us. Plastics, paper, concrete, glass, etc. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Robert Spillman
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
So interesting. It goes in to a lot of technical science that was above my head, but the analysis was worth reading.
Published 10 days ago by Elle
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great insight to everyday products.
Published 11 days ago by George P. Lonergan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Outstanding presentation of complicated subject matter in language a layman can understand.
Published 12 days ago by Laura-Love Yates
5.0 out of 5 stars I like it
the writer is a little eccentric but it is a good read.
Published 14 days ago by Dr Var
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good condition.
Published 15 days ago by David Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Science buff must
Awesome book!!
Published 17 days ago by Ari
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