One of the most profound concepts to come out of condensed matter physics is the idea of emergent properties - nontrivial properties of a system that are not trivially deducible from the microscopic aspects and interactions of the underlying degrees of freedom, and that become even better defined as the system size grows. One example is the rigidity of solids: A single carbon atom is not rigid; a small cluster of carbon atoms has a countable number of discrete vibrational modes; but a large number of carbon atoms coupled by sp3 bonds becomes a diamond, one of the hardest, most mechanically rigid solids there is, so stiff that compressive sound travels at 12 km/s, 35 times faster than in air. Somehow, going from one atom to many, the concept of rigidity acquires meaning, and the speed of sound in diamond approaches a precise value.
I was recently rereading that book, and one chapter articulates Laughlin's basically dismissive take on nanoscience. He refers to it as a "carnival of baubles" - his view is that otherwise smart people get sucked into playing around at the nanoscale because it's diverting and involves fun, cool toys (i.e., everything looks cool under an electron microscope!), instead of spending their time and effort actually trying to think about deep, fundamental questions. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it won't surprise you that I disagree with much of that take. Working at the nanoscale allows us to examine how emergence works in specific cases, sets the ground work for the materials and devices of future technologies (two topics I touch on in my book), and allows us to develop new probes and techniques precisely for asking (some subset of) deep questions. Like being able to probe matter on ultrafast timescales, or over a huge temperature range, or in systems of unprecedented purity, pushing our control and manipulation of materials to the nano regime lets us ask new and different questions, and that's how we make progress and find surprises. This isn't an infatuation with baubles (though everything does look cool under an electron microscope).