Stuff Matters

Mark Miodownik

Why I looked at this book

This book is a contender for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

First impressions

As with John Browne's 7 Elements book, writing about material science for a popular audience isn't that easy. Miodownik certainly grabs our attention at the start with a description of how he was stabbed, but is that all it is - an attention grabbing exercise? At the start of chapter 1 we hear about Radivoke Lajic, whose house seems to attract meteorites, but only for a single paragraph - I'd have liked to find out more about that. Maybe when the book gets going more, it will get a more coherent feel to it, but I'll reserve my judgement till then.

Main review

No, I don't think that the book got a more coherent feel to it as it went on. Too much of it looked like filler when Miodownik couldn't find anything relevant to write. The chapter on paper is more about what can be printed or written on paper than the material itself. And starting the chapter on plastic with a description on how he got into an argument about the use of plastic bags for sweets while queue in a cinema is all very well, but then the bulk of the chapter is a screenplay showing how he might have continued the argument - I thought that this was too much of a gimmick.

It's a difficult task, writing about 'Stuff'. Adding some personal anecdotes helps in the case of the chapter on aerogel, less so when we are told about Miodownik's various injuries in other chapters. There are some interesting bits - the invention of chocolate, the chapter on aerogel and the possibility of using 3D printers to replace parts of our bodies for instance, and some people might think that the bits I see as filler are more of a entertaining respite. Also, Miodownik does put in something I find lacking in many other books, which is diagrams to help to explain some of the science. I felt, however, that much of the book wasn't partiularly inspiring or memorable, and I don't consider it to be one of the better books of the 2014 Royal Society Winton prize contenders.

But apparently the judges thought otherwise and decide that this was the:

Winner of the 2014 Royal Society Winton prize for science books

Reviews Elsewhere

The Amazon Reviews and Goodreads Reviews were very positive, but a few thought there was too much 'filler'.
Rose George at the New York Times thinks that 'Some sections are more successful than others' but 'Miodownik gets the blend right'.
Like me Brian Clegg thinks it's difficult writing about material science, but he thinks that Miodownik succeeded.