Apr 21

Book Review: Stuff Matters

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

This is a good non-fiction book about materials science, which is a high recommendation in my book, because non-fiction books about chemistry for the layperson are in a narrow category of books I like to read quite a lot. The author uses first-hand anecdotes from his surprisingly accident-prone life to discuss everything from the razor that sliced open his back when he got mugged on the subway to the plaster that was used to cast up his broken bone when he was a kid.
The materials talked about in this book range from chocolate to cement to glass to silica aerogel. He makes silica aerogel sound so cool I kind of want to buy a piece just so I can look at it. Ditto for tubes of lightning-formed glass. Some of the science went a little over my head, in that while I understood why chocolate gets tempered, I don’t understand the process enough to be able to replicate it or explain it to someone.

One of the amusing parts of this book was the part about plastic, which was written as a western screenplay, in response to a remembered argument the author had with another moviegoer about whether or not plastic had a place in the theater. I don’t know if the author got some help writing this book from a professional, or if he’s just a polymath, but that was charming and well done.

I recommend this book for people who like science. It reminds me most of another book I quite enjoyed, THE BOTANY OF DESIRE, except that book was about plants and this is about man-made materials.

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