Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World (Anglais) Relié – 27 mai 2014
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A New York Times Bestseller
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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. He is not talking about that. He is talking about set gelatins, what in the US we call by the brand name Jell-o. If you figure this out, that chapter makes perfect sense. Thinking jelly as spreadable fruit juice makes the chapter very strange indeed.
It's a book that is at once an easily accessible introduction to materials science and an absolutely delightful personal set of reflections.
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.
Both of the DK Publishing books are filled with full-color photos and graphics; and large enough to cover a kid's lap. "Firearms: An Illustrated History" is 12 x 10.3 x 1.2 inches and "History Year by Year" is 10.9 x 8.8 x 1 inches.
Miodownik's essay on metal, specifically stainless steel, would make a fantastic illustration.
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.
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. Anyone who has recently had a hip replacement, undergone reconstructive plastic surgery, or been fitted with a prosthetic body part has profited from the amazing substances and procedures developed by creative and highly skilled scientists and physicians.
Miodownik's style is accessible, informal, and humorous; his curiosity and enthusiasm are infectious. He includes his own drawings, lending the narrative a more personal touch. Non-scientists may not grasp the passages dealing with atoms, electrons, carbon bonds, and quantum mechanics; nor will they necessarily comprehend why substances behave differently, depending on their composition, age, as well as their exposure to light, pressure, and high or low temperatures. Still, even people who flunked physics and chemistry will realize that some of the things we take for granted are truly incredible. Professor Miodownik urges us to appreciate the beauty, diversity, utility, and sophistication of the materials that make our world a more hospitable and habitable place. In addition, he introduces us to such exotic items as astrogel and graphene, each of which possesses unique properties. Let us hope that researchers' efforts and ingenuity will be devoted not just to making our everyday lives more enjoyable and convenient, but also to preserving our planet for future generations.