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

283 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0544236042
ISBN-10: 0544236041
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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


Stuff Matters is about hidden wonders, the astonishing properties of materials we think boring, banal and unworthy of attention...It’s possible this science and these stories have been told elsewhere, but like the best chocolatiers, Miodownik gets the blend right." —The New York Times Book Review

"[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. Miodownik's lively, eloquent book changes the way one looks at the world." —Wall Street Journal

"Midownik dives into every detail...[with] joyous curiosity." —Entertainment Weekly

"Miodownik, a materials scientist, explains the history and science behind things such as paper, glass, chocolate and concrete with an infectious enthusiasm." —Scientific American

"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." —Discover

"Stuff Matters makes the seemingly banal objects of our everyday lives into an endless source of wonder, dreams and possibility." —Salon

"Superb storytelling...fascinating...a delightful book on a subject that is relatively rarely written about." —Popular Science

"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." —Dallas Morning News

"I stayed up all night reading this book. Miodownik writes with such knowledge, such enthusiasm, such a palpable love for his subject." Oliver Sacks, author of Hallucinations

"Concrete, chocolate, paper, porcelain; this is a fascinating and informative account of the ‘stuff’ of our everyday lives." —Penny Le Couteur, coauthor of Napoleon’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 layperson—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." —Kate Ascher, author of The Works, The Heights, and The Way to Go

"[A] wonderful account of the materials that have made the modern world…Miodownik writes well enough to make even concrete sparkle." —Financial Times

"A deftly written, immensely enjoyable little book." —Observer (UK)

"[Miodownik] makes even the most everyday seem thrilling." The Sunday Times (UK)

"Enthralling... a mission to re-acquaint us with the wonders of the fabric that sustains our lives." —Guardian (UK)

"Entertaining...These materials make fascinating reading." —Materials Today (UK)

"A great look at the science and stories behind the seemingly mundane substances that make up almost everything." —Physics Central

"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." —Kirkus

"A fascinating introduction to materials science...Miodownik’s infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire readers to take a closer look at the materials around them." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"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, Europe’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. ­VERDICT Recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the materials that make up the world around them." —Library Journal, STARRED

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544236041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544236042
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Janet Perry VINE VOICE on 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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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By L. M Young VINE VOICE on 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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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
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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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