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

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

Written by Mark Miodownik

Narrated by Michael Page


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

Written by Mark Miodownik

Narrated by Michael Page

ratings:
4.5/5 (50 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 29, 2014
ISBN:
9781494574444
Format:
Audiobook

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Description

Why is glass see-through? What makes elastic stretchy? Why does a paper clip bend? 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.

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.

Publisher:
Released:
Jul 29, 2014
ISBN:
9781494574444
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

BookSnapshot

About the author

MARK MIODOWNIK is professor of materials and society at University College London, where he is also director of the Institute of Making. He is the author of the book Stuff Matters, a New York Times bestseller which won the National Academy of Sciences Communication Award for Books and the Royal Society Winton Prize. Mark writes regularly for the Guardian, hosts regular shows on the BBC, and was chosen as by the Times as one of the one hundred most influential scientists in the UK.


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What people think about Stuff Matters

4.5
50 ratings / 23 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Materials scientist Mark Miodownik provides the reader with an extremely accessible, surprisingly enjoyable and mind-blowingly informative treatise about "stuff"...the building blocks of which items we come into contact with on a daily basis are made. Each chapter explores the history, composition, structure and common usage of a different material, such as concrete, chocolate, glass or porcelain. Miodownik treats his subjects lovingly and with enthusiasm, relating seemingly dry subject matter in such a way that whole new worlds are opened up for the reader and one will never be able to look at a spoon or a street in the same way ever again.
  • (5/5)
    During my school and college days, I had no inclination towards chemistry whatsoever. If I had a teacher like Miodownik, I'm pretty sure things would be different for me. The ease with which the author explains the complex microscopic world illustrates his hold on the subject.The composition and behavior of everyday materials is excellently explained in this little book. Steel, concrete, glass, chocolate, paper are some of the day-to-day items that we see, use and deal with, but are still very ignorant about their importance and impact on our lives.Some of things I learned: the way graphite differs from diamond; life, as we know it, is made up of carbon and yet it is a trace element; e-ink is actually a print on 'paper'.The chapter on glass was the best one IMHO where the author describes the concept of why glass is transparent in a very picturesque way. Something tells me I'll remember the 'athletics stadium and a pea in center with sparsely populated electron spectators' for a long time to come.I agree with some other reviewers about the image - they could be of higher quality.
  • (5/5)
    Good read about some interesting areas of material science - and how it becomes the "stuff" of our lives. Especially intriguing was the chapter on foams and gels, most particularly aerogel. Very cool! I like the author's writing style and the way he added personal stories about a material to kick off many of the chapters.
  • (4/5)
    A brief exploration of materials that make up manufactured things in the world, specifically some of the items seen in the picture of the author enjoying tea on his roof-top in London. The author is a materials scientist, writes lightly and well, has many interesting facts to tell about the making of concrete, porcelain, glass, chocolate and other materials.
  • (3/5)
    Periodic Tales is a casual presentation of the history, significance, and science behind some of the most common elements of our life and world. The work itself is a bit uneven. The discussion of iron and steel is rich in history and in explanation. It is genuinely surprising to see the development of this element and to understand the impact in our lives. Some of the other chapters are less informative and devolve into either personal stories light on history and science or more purely scientific explanations light on significance. Overall, the book was a quick read that was at times enjoyable but little more than a lighthearted way to pass the time.
  • (3/5)
    A rather interesting look at materials that enter our lives in all the various shapes and forms we deal with on a daily basis. The author is a British fellow with a Physics background of course. The layout is a clever as he is portrayed sitting on a roof top type patio with objects surrounding him as it picks out each topic and discusses origins and applications. A good way to get a sense of how advanced and intertwined the everyday materials we interact with are.
  • (4/5)
    Enjoyable, easy read on the history and properties of certain materials of everyday life. Miodownik talks about steel, paper, concrete, plastic, ceramics, glass, and more...even chocolate! Oddly, his lack of references, other than a short "Further reading" list, didn't bother me. Perhaps because materials was among my least favorites of my engineering classes and he made it fun?
  • (5/5)
    In-depth, accessible, entertaining lessons on the science behind everything around us. Everyone should listen to this audiobook. A great narrator as well.
  • (4/5)
    Almost everything we touch has had some form of human interaction to change it from one form to another. Some of these interactions are simple, involving the changing of the shape and form, others are much more complex and involve heat and chemical interaction. Using a photo of himself drinking a coffee and eating a bar of chocolate, Miodownik takes us through a range of different materials that you are likely to come across every day, such as glass, steel, plastics, concrete, paper and even chocolate.

    Each chapter takes one aspect of he picture, for example the steel legs of the table, and then he explores the social and historical detail behind the material, from how it was mined, how they used it way back in history, as well as the technological advances that happen to make the material what it is today. Some of the material he writes about are not what you would expect, chocolate for example, but in this he explains some of the chemical processes that are used to change the bitter, fibrous beans to the seductive food that is chocolate. Paper too is an unusual choice, but when you think about it, this is a material that meant that people no longer needed to rely on oral traditions and could communicate with words and drawings and pictures.

    There was never a plastic age, as we have had a stone age and iron age in the past, but I think that you could safely classify the post war years in that way. The first plastics were nitrocellulose, and were used to replace Ivory billiard balls, where as now we have a whole raft of plastic types to choose from, and they can be formed and moulded in many ways. Glass to is an amazing substance. As bill Bryson said in Notes from a Small Island: call me obtuse, but you could stand me on a beach till the end of time and never would it occur to me to try to make it into windows. And it is an amazing material. Naturally fragile, it can be made much tougher by tempering it or by adding thin layers of plastic it becomes bullet proof. Concrete, like glass was a material that the Romans had, whilst they didn’t have the fine control and understanding that the modern chemists and engineers have, they knew how to build with it, so much so that the Pantheon still is the largest unreinforced dome in the world and it is 2000 years old.

    A morning coffee wouldn’t be the same with out a cup to drink it out of, and Miodownik looks at the history of china and porcelain. The finest porcelains were perfected by the Chinese who had almost transparent cups. After the Europeans stole the technology from them, we developed our own industry here using China clay mined in Cornwall. Other material include carbon, available in the ludicrously expensive form of diamond and the much cheaper, and more useful form of graphite.

    Miodownik is well qualified to write this too, he is Professor of Materials at UCL, and his boundless enthusiasm for any and all materials comes across vividly in this book, just like you would see him on the telly in fact. Even though he is vastly experienced and knowledgeable, this is a popular science book, and really does not go into a huge amount of depth on each subject. The writing style is chatty, which will annoy some people no doubt, and I am not sure who convinced him that doing the chapter on plastics as a play would work, because it doesn’t. All that said, this is a good introduction to the things that we see, use, sit on, write with and drink from every day; 3.5 stars though.
  • (4/5)
    Years ago, in college, I made a conscious decision to stay away from all but the (barely) required science classes. I'd enjoyed science in high school, but at this university, science seemed to be highly competitive, aimed at premed and PhD ambitions. If there had been a track for 'science for poets' as sometimes exists today, I would have taken every course. I was probably afraid of the competition, and the math, and had no ambitions for a scientific career. But in high school, especially in chemistry class (which I basically taught myself, the teacher was so bad), what fascinated me was what I later learned was called 'physical chemistry', the structure and behavior of atoms in substance.(By the time I'd graduated, my writing was poorer for a lack of scientific metaphor and expanded horizons. And when I think of auditing college classes now, it's always the science courses that interests me.)Well, this book is all about physical chemistry, complete with little pictures of things like carbon hexagons and great explanations of the substances discussed. Don't worry about the chapter on paper - didn't interest me much. But the other stuff, the steel chapter, the carbon chapter! Wow.
  • (5/5)
    Easily digested and educational while not a straight lecture- the plastic invention and development was splendid story telling.
  • (5/5)
    This gives history as well as story behind material that we take for granted
  • (4/5)
    A look at the composition and characteristics of several commonly used materials. Nicely paced, informative, but not overwhelmingly technical.
  • (3/5)
    Not a huge fan of the chapters on paper and celluloid, because the science took a back seat to the "emotional" aspects that Miodownik ascribed to the materials.
  • (4/5)
    This was really very interesting, each chapter is devoted to a different material (most common, like steel and concrete, but some obscurely high tech, like aerogel) that goes into the history of how it has been used, what's going on scientifically, like at a molecular level (it was nice understanding why we can see through glass, my comprehension of this lasted about 15 minutes), and what cultural connotations the substances have (like why a concrete building seems more dismal than a brick building).My biggest issue is that the author seemed perpetually unaware that his own personal observations aren't always reflective of larger cultural values. I get that when we talk about trends or preferences, we are by definition talking about vague sets of "most" people, there will always be some people who disagree, but he made a lot of things personal that didn't resonate at all with me. I think this was perhaps intended to blend a human touch with the science-based information in the book, but it mostly resulted in me having doubts about his judgement.
  • (5/5)
    Enthralling and wittily written tour of materials science, beginning with an anecdote about being attacked with a razor blade. Illustrated with the author's endearingly crappy little drawings. Great fun.
  • (5/5)
    An intriging and stimulating book, full of scientific discoveries and concepts. It is written in a style that never condescends, but encourages the less science-minded to delve deeper into material science secrets. This book is for the casually interested, or hardcore science geek, and everyone else in between. And for chocolate lovers, too! Recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Before I picked this up I was already familiar with articles and tv programmes by Mark Midownik and enjoyed both his presenting and writing style. This book was no different bringing our everyday environment into focus by examining the materials that are all around us and of which I give very little thought.I particularly like the manner in which he relates his own life experience to the different materials. Accessible popular science at its very best!
  • (4/5)
    This was a very interesting book about discoveries and inventions and how one idea builds on another. It focuses on concrete, chocolate, paper, and porcelain.
  • (4/5)
    The author is a material scientist who holds the position of professor of “materials and society” at University College London. His somewhat quirky title gives a hint about the contents and organization of the book: it deals not only with the incredible and unexpected properties of various man-made materials, but also with the way that humans relate and react to those materials. Ten materials are explored in all, each with a separate chapter. I must admit that I found the explanations of the make-up of the materials - especially the ways in which they are not at all the “solids” they appear to be - more interesting than the author’s musings on the way these items shaped society. As the author repeatedly demonstrates:"The central idea behind materials science is that changes at … invisibly small scales impact a material’s behavior at the human scale. It is this process that our ancestors stumbled upon to make new materials such as bronze and steel, even though they did not have the microscopes to see what they were doing - an amazing achievement.”He shares many fascinating observations about the property of “stuff”: for example, he describes silica aerogel, a material that is 99.8% air, which may be the least dense solid in the universe, but which is being successfully used by NASA to harvest space dust from comets. He explains why diamonds have such unique and remarkable properties, why paperclips bend, and why elastic stretches. And he tells how the use of glass for serving beer changed the whole nature of the brewing industry. Likewise, his observations on how more prosaic materials like paper, steel, ceramics, and concrete were developed and how they shaped the modern world are worth reading. On the other hand, I wasn’t so much taken with his inclusion into the narrative mix of “psychophysics,” the study of how humans react sensually to materials.Nevertheless, the author is engaging, and there are plenty of photos and diagrams throughout the book to elucidate that which he wants to convey.Evaluation: This is a short, easy read with lots of interesting factoids.(JAB)
  • (5/5)
    Materials science – Mark Miodownik made it very interesting! I was fascinated from the get-go by how he came by his interest in metals, and thence to other materials. And hooked by the first chapter – metals. The porcelain, concrete/cement chapters were also interesting. The only chapter that didn’t grab me was Paper; I guess there was nothing new to me there, or else the author wasn’t as interested, because his enthusiasm was felt in all the other chapters but this one. Most fascinating to me was the chapter which discussed the 3D printer and its application in organ transplants.The author kept my attention throughout the whole book. Well written, engaging presentation of materials science.
  • (5/5)
    If you’re a science buff this book will not be for you, but for everybody else it’s a wonderful guide to science through a scene from his roof. Miodownik explains some fairly complicated things in an easygoing fashion with simplified diagrams, and one point a movie script. Definitely a good guide to have around.Free review copy.
  • (3/5)
    Highly entertaining stroll through the world of materials science by looking at some of our most familiar objects - concrete, paper, chocolate - through the author's slightly quirky eyes. Very enjoyable.