Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
© 2014 Mark Miodownik
Stuff Matters begins with a photo of the authorhaving coffee on the roof of his London flat, the table before him scattered with papers and the unremarkable clutter of everyday life. That clutter, however, is composed of stuff that makes modern life unimaginable without it. Stuff Matters scrutinizes each object in turn, and is thus a bundle of microhistories with strong scientific undercurrent. Mark Miodownik combines a history of how a material like porcelain came into being with an analysis of why they work — why glass is transparent, why stainless steel can effectively repair itself, how prosthetics can fool the body into thinking they’re just part of the gang. Miodownik often adds a personal touch, as he has a genuine obsession with materials science: if he’s stabbed or thrown through a window, his first thoughts are about the feel and wonder of the materials he’s passing through (or which are passing through him). He would share Carl Sagan’s conviction that the beauty of a living thing — in Miodownik’s case, just a thing — is not the atoms that go into it, but the way they’re put together. After all, diamonds and graphite have the same atomic core, being made of pure carbon, but they’re fundamentally different substances because of the way their carbon atoms are connected.