The full title of this book is one of the longest ones I’ve seen (not counting academic books of course), so I had to cut it down a bit in the post title, here is the whole thing: Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World.
I don’t read many non-fiction books, but surprisingly when I do they usually relate to science (a field quite foreign for an art historian), I also tend to be quite lucky in my choices. This book definitely confirms this rule.
Let’s start with the author Mark Miodownik is Professor of Materials and Society at University College London and a Director of the Institute of Making also there, meaning materials are his life’s work. The book starts with an introduction explaining the origin of this personal fascination, form then on it is what the book is – personal.
I really think kids should read this book at school (I wish I had), it is bound to interest them in science, some may even become passionate about it. Miodownik is able to make science accessible without oversimplifying things, he keeps things interesting, his tone conversational, but on the other hand gives scientists and inventors their due, they become modern world heroes.
Miodownik uses a picture of himself on the terrace as a starting point to take us on a journey discussing ten different materials that we interact with pretty much daily (with one exception): steel, paper, concrete, chocolate, aerogel, plastic, glass, graphite, porcelain and implants. He writes about their origin, taking us through a lot of trial and error that led to new materials being invented. He explains their molecular structure, but in simple and understandable terms. Most of all he connects science to life, gives back to the everyday materials the significance they had at invention. Reminds us how life would be totally different without them.
He also tries to show us the materials in social context, how they are perceived now and why. Those parts sometimes could be expanded a bit, like when he discusses society perceiving concrete as ugly, but does not delve deeper into why and how exactly this came to be, but this is just humanist in me complaining.
I liked the way he changed tone, language and narration to keep reader’s attention. This book made me look closer at things around me and realize how amazing they are, I also realized most of this thing surrounding me is made of one of the ten materials he discusses. The only material I found difficult to relate to was aerogel, but that’s not surprising as it is used by NASA, so quite hard to come by i everyday life.
It was a fantastic book and I really found it difficult to put it down. It changed the way I look at things even if forgot inventor’s name.
What is the longest book title you have come across? Did you like the book?
What is your favorite material you touched during the last day? Why?
Photo (featuring stainless steel and plastic) by Violetta Kaszubowska