Summary and book reviews of Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Stuff Matters

Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World

By Mark Miodownik

Stuff Matters
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  • Hardcover: May 2014,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

Why is glass see-through? What makes elastic stretchy? Why does a paper clip bend? Why does any material look and behave the way it does? 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.

In Stuff Matters, Miodownik entertainingly examines the materials he encounters in a typical morning, from the steel in his razor and the graphite in his pencil to the foam in his sneakers and the concrete in a nearby skyscraper. He offers a compendium of the most astounding histories and marvelous scientific breakthroughs in the material world, including:

  • The imprisoned alchemist who saved himself from execution by creating the first European porcelain.
  • The hidden gem of the Milky Way, a planet five times the size of Earth, made entirely of diamond.
  • Graphene, the thinnest, strongest, stiffest material in existence - only a single atom thick - that could be used to make entire buildings sensitive to touch.

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.

As I stood on a train bleeding from what would later be classified as a thirteen-centimeter stab wound, I wondered what to do. It was May 1985, and I had just jumped on to a London Tube train as the door closed, shutting out my attacker, but not before he had slashed my back. The wound stung like a very bad paper cut, and I had no idea how serious it was, but being a schoolboy at the time, embarrassment overcame any sort of common sense. So instead of getting help, I decided the best thing would be to sit down and go home, and so, bizarrely, that is what I did.

To distract myself from the pain, and the uneasy feeling of blood trickling down my back, I tried to work out what had just happened. My assailant had approached me on the platform asking me for money. When I shook my head he got uncomfortably close, looked at me intently, and told me he had a knife. A few specks of spit from his mouth landed on my glasses as he said this. I followed his gaze down to the pocket of his blue ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

In Stuff Matters, Miodownik successfully rekindles that enthusiasm, not just for plastics, but for all manner of materials in our everyday lives. Read Stuff Matters because, well, stuff matters. You’ll develop a whole new outlook for the many engineering wonders around us - from the tip of your ballpoint pen to knee joint replacements.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Puts the wonder and strangeness back into all the truly magical stuff that comprises our everyday reality.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Miodownik's infectious curiosity and explanatory gifts will inspire readers to take a closer look at the materials around them.

The Times (UK)

Miodownik achieves precisely what he sets out to, which is to make the case that the materials we have made are as extraordinary, and as revealing of us, as the materials we are made of.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Makes even the most everyday seem thrilling.

The Observer (UK)

A deftly written, immensely enjoyable little book.

The Guardian (UK)

Miodownik tells a good story...Enthralling.

Financial Times

[A] wonderful account of the materials that have made the modern world…Miodownik writes well enough to make even concrete sparkle.

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Gillette: Steel and the First Disposable Razor Blade

One of the chapters in Stuff Matters is devoted to steel, and Mark Miodownik mentions the Gillette safety razor blade and its inventor King Camp Gillette, as being responsible for the "democratization of shaving."

King Camp GilletteKing (yes, that really was his first name) Gillette was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in the mid-nineteenth century to parents who were tinkers. The family settled in Chicago but when their hardware business was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, they moved to New York. King Gillette became a traveling salesman selling miscellaneous wares to which he constantly made improvements. It was during this phase that Gillette realized greater sales could be had from disposable products. While on the road, Gillette used a ...

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