Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made WorldStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World
by Mark Miodownik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780544236042
Publication Date: November 6, 2014
Pages: 252
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I have this in hardcover, but I listened to the audiobook from the library.  So I’m not sure if my feelings about the book are because I listened to it, or if I’d have felt the same reading it.  I do know that Storm in a Teacup is a much better read about slightly similar subjects.

Stuff Matters is a relatively slim tome covering some of the marvelous ‘stuff’ we live with, and the selection is quite varied: concrete, stainless steel, chocolate, plastics (the most irritating of the chapters), glass, graphite.  There was good information about said stuff in here, but I admit it didn’t hold my attention in nearly the same way as Storm in a Teacup.

The narrator’s voice reminded me strongly of an actor, whose character I can clearly see but can’t place.  Very, very British, balding, bow tie, condescending and misanthropic in a humorous way.  This might have had something to do with my impressions of the book, too, though I’d have to read the print version to be sure.  And someday, I likely will.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

The Body: A Guide for OccupantsThe Body: A Guide for Occupants
by Bill Bryson
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780857522405
Publication Date: October 3, 2019
Pages: 455
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Penguin Books

Bill Bryson sets off to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.


Another book I own but borrowed in audio from the library.  Also another read by the author, though Bryson does almost all of his own books and I’ve always enjoyed his readings.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an overview of the human body, taking it system by system.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but looking through my hard copy, I can see it includes photos, making me think this is yet another book destined to be re-visited as a read, rather than a listen.  No hardship, as Bryson is an excellent writer, and The Body is no exception.  He covers the basics, plus just that little bit more, offering what might perhaps be new information, or a different perspective, or a fresh historical anecdote.  He also doesn’t pull any punches about humanity’s propensity to overeat and under exercise, something that in (what is for me) these post-lockdown days had a more pronounced effect than they might otherwise have had pre-covid.

I don’t think fans of Bryson will be disappointed.

Caesar’s Last Breath (Audio)

Caesar's Last BreathCaesar's Last Breath
by Sam Kean
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780316381642
Publication Date: July 26, 2017
Pages: 375
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

A round-the-globe journey through the periodic table explains how the air people breathe reflects the world's history, tracing the origins and ingredients of the atmosphere to explain air's role in reshaping continents, steering human progress, and powering revolutions.


I listened to this back in December-February, and forgot all about posting a review; this happens frequently with my audiobooks since I borrow them from the library and they’re not physical objects, sitting around mutely mocking me for my slack ways.

I like Sam Kean’s books, and I always have.  They’re popular science books and I enjoy his way of attaching science to everyday anecdotes; for me it’s a nice reinforce how science is at the very core of life.

Caesar’s Last Breath is about the air we all breathe and which parts of the periodic table we’re breathing at any given moment.  I own the book, but it was available from the library as audio and I needed something for the car.  It’s narrated by Kean himself, which can often not be a good thing, but I think he made a fair performance of it.  But this book also uses visuals, so while I enjoyed it, I think I’d have gotten more out of it had I read my hard copy.  Something I’ll probably do soon.

If you’ve read his other books and didn’t care for them, don’t bother with this one, but if you enjoy accessible science tied to historical events or everyday living, you might enjoy this one.