Another cleverly told and engagingly accessible study of the stuff around us.




Miodownik (Materials and Society/Univ. College London; Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World, 2014) follows up his prizewinning debut with an equally focused tour of liquids, “the alter ego of dependable solid stuff.”

Liquids, writes the author in his loquacious introduction, are “anarchic” and “have a knack for destroying things.” When not properly contained, “they are always on the move, seeping, corroding, dripping and escaping our control.” To shape his meditation on liquids, Miodownik presents something of a contained laboratory by setting his entire thesis within the bounds of his nonstop flight from London to San Francisco. (He does make some digressions and asides along the way.) The author begins with the explosive properties of his airplane’s fuel before moving on to the intoxicating properties of the plane’s cocktail offerings and an account of his near-death experience in the frigid waters of a popular swimming hole in Dublin. Frightened fliers may take comfort from the chapter titled “Sticky,” in which Miodownik explores the nigh-unbreakable resins that hold many of the plane’s parts together. “Fantastic” is a bit of a stretch for the chapter that examines the liquid crystals that enable the author to watch Spider-Man, with a detour to ponder The Picture of Dorian Gray. The chapters on body fluids, tea, and soap are mostly by-the-numbers, but the author’s enthusiasm and wry humor even make these relatively banal substances entertaining. His stories and semilectures are also punctuated by illustrations, photographs, and some of the molecular formulas of the liquids he analyzes. We even get a few history lessons—e.g., how chemist Thomas Midgley poisoned himself by accident in inventing the freon liquid that would later prove so handy in air conditioners; and the odd tale of László Biro, told via Miodownik’s need of a pen. The author closes with a chapter on liquids and sustainability.

Another cleverly told and engagingly accessible study of the stuff around us.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-85019-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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