By Mark Miodownik
Review by Bex (Medicine)
I picked up this book by chance; it was in the new releases section of my local bookshop. Though maybe it’s a slightly unorthodox book to read when applying for medicine, I was immediately drawn to it because of how it explains the material science behind everyday materials – just as medicine studies how body systems sometimes stop working, and the effects of this on health.
The enthusiasm of the author is evident. He talks about a whole range of materials like glass, paper, steel and plastic – as well as chocolate, due to his love for it – and is enthusiastic about each one, no matter how mundane they seem. Each chapter focusses on a different material, and gives some real insight into how these work on an everyday basis, and why we have continued to use them for such a long time. He also brings in some newer materials like graphene – which matched up nicely with my chemistry A Level at the time.
Miodownik demonstrates the role of each material in development of new ones; for example, plastics may have begun with Bakelite, but their use expanded to nylon tights, and celluloid, which was key for film production (and films had a key role in culture especially over the 20th century). He delves into the history of ‘older’ materials, like porcelain, whose production began in China and spread slowly across the world; reflecting the sharing of knowledge through the world, and how industrial developments took place at different points in different countries’ histories.
This book is an account which makes you value everyday items, as well as teaching you to think about why things as they are, and what makes a substance successful. I really enjoyed it and I’m sure you might too!
Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik