## Monday, May 18, 2015

### Book recommendations: Stuff Matters and The Disappearing Spoon

I've lamented the lack of good popularizations of condensed matter/solid state physics.  I do, however, have recommendations for two relatively recent books about materials and chemistry, which is pretty close.

The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean, is a fun, engaging stroll across the periodic table, exploring the properties of the various chemical elements through the usually fascinating, sometimes funny, occasionally macabre histories of their discoveries and uses.  The title references joke spoons made from gallium that would melt (and fall to the bottom of the cup) when used to stir tea.  The tone is light and anecdotal, and the history is obscure enough that you haven't heard all the stories before.  Very fun.

Stuff Matters, by Mark Miodownik, is similar in spirit, though not quite so historical and containing more physics and materials science.  The author is a materials scientist who happens to be a gifted author and popularizer as well.  He's done a BBC three-episode series about materials (available here), another BBC series about modern technologies, and a TED lesson about why glass is transparent.

Ted said...

I am always on the lookout for good popular books on these subjects, both for myself and to recommend to friends and family curious about my line of work. Thank you for the recommendations!

I cannot resist adding a plug for my favorite popular condensed matter book, The Self-Made Tapestry. Regrettably, it is out of print.

Douglas Natelson said...

Sweet! I'll have to try to find a copy....

friv said...

I am impressed by the details that you have on this article. Thanks

Anonymous said...

How do you explain the basics of band theory to a non-physicist? To an artist, at that?

Anonymous said...

What, no string theory???

Well, then, these scientists books are worthless.

I wouldn't put on my shoes without the approval of the string theory con artists.

Anzel said...

Mark Mlodownik wrote the book I had intended to write someday :(

Have you read "Periodic Tales" by Hugh Aldersey-Williams? Pretty steadily chemistry, but I quite enjoyed it.

Douglas Natelson said...

Anon@12:29, I'm going to give it a try. Clearly it's difficult, and you have to work by analogy, meaning that you have to sacrifice some accuracy. I will not be attempting to explain Slater determinants.

Anzel, I know what you mean. Haven't read that one - I'll add it to my list.

David Brown said...

slideshow seminar suitable for freshman physics majors:
“An Introduction to AMO Physics” by Cass Sackett, UVA
suitable for junior/senior physics majors:
"Condensed Matter in a Nutshell" by Gerald D. Mahan, 2011

Anonymous said...

Science popularization (equation free "understanding") is a bunch of bs. If the gov paid me for understanding graduate level classical physics, relativity, and quantum theory then I would be happy to learn it. And no, I don't need to drop down 10's of thousands of $'s for university professors to teach it to me either. Guess what, Doug Natelson, the books are free on the internet. If Doug Natelson was being paid$0 dollas to do science, safe to say he would be science illiterate like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

David Brown,

Why bother providing references to inferior and thus irrelevant knowledge? Didn't you get the memo that only the members of the string theory privatization cult can possibly understand condensed matter as well as high energy physics...or physics related mathematics...or anything including tying your shoes.

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=22973357&postID=1137531427488191970

Anzel said...

Also just picked up "Rust: The Longest War" by Johnathan Waldman and so far (I'm only 3 chapters in) it's been pretty good.

RVerduzco said...

I really enjoyed Stuff Matters - its a great and entertaining and entertaining introduction to materials science. My wife (she's not a scientist, background in literature) read parts and really enjoyed it. It's a rare book that can appeal to both scientists and non-scientists.