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



A compact, intense guided tour through a handful of physical materials, from concrete to chocolate, revealing what makes them profoundly affect our lives.

Materials make up everything, including us, writes Miodownik (Materials and Society/ University Coll. London), and knowing something of their history, cultural influence and psychophysics (the science of our sensual interaction with them) is a gateway to understanding the world’s inner and outer complexities. The author writes with enthusiasm, empathy and gratitude, making us care for concrete or foam as much as for Mr. Darcy or the Artful Dodger. He begins with the story of his stabbing by a panhandler with a razor knife. Being a schoolboy at the time, Miodownik was less concerned with his survival than he was fascinated by the razor. What a remarkable thing, to cut through all that winter clothing and still deliver a deep wound, he thought. What is steel, anyway? From there, he takes us through the miracle of alloys: why hammering a metal makes it stronger, why we likely wouldn’t have the pyramids without copper, what the samurai’s sword has in common with the compass’ needle. A photograph of himself having a cup of tea on the roof of his apartment building launches his exploration of the materials that make up his surroundings: paper, concrete, chocolate and its divine transformation of state, from bitter bean to “pure dark chocolate in your mouth [that] start[s] to liquefy” as the cocoa butter crystals commence to wobble. Miodownik investigates everything from the brilliant thermal properties of silica aerogel, used in insulation, to the atomic arrangement of diamonds, which have an “unusually high optical dispersion” that we call sparkle. Why we are so taken with porcelain and why a newspaper rustles are not mysteries to Miodownik, who helps us understand the complexity of inner structures.

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

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-23604-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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