Pop science book by a material science professor, where each chapter talks about some material, their properties, history, etc. The first chapter “indomitable” is about metals: they’re as hard as rock but much more malleable so they don’t break easily. Humans first figured out how to make copper by heating a rock, then discovered that adding a bit of tin made it a lot harder. Now there are many types of steel alloys and they’re not fully understood.
The next chapters talk about paper, concrete, chocolate, aerogel, plastic, glass, ceramics, etc. Concrete is made by heating up rock and mixing with water, which doesn’t dry, but rather reacts with the rock as it sets. Aerogel is the world’s lightest material and a good thermal insulator, made by heating jelly to a critical temperature where the liquid turns into gas without evaporating. The properties of materials are determined by many levels, from atomic (quantum effects) to microscopic (crystal arrangements), and also dictate things what we can manufacture.
I didn’t really like this book because it doesn’t go into depth on any topic, but jumps between topics really quickly. It’s never explained how quantum effects affect steel alloys, or how is liquid turned to gas in an aerogel without evaporation. The author clearly knows the science, but only talks about it briefly before moving on to historical or social commentary. The book intends to draw attention to materials that we typically find mundane, but in the end, I feel like I only learned various bits of trivia about different materials, and didn’t gain much understanding of material science.