Physics World‘s Book of the Year for 2014 is Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik
In the world of popular-science books and TV documentaries, physics is often presented as a really esoteric subject, one that mostly concerns itself with tiny things such as atoms and molecules or really big things such as stars and galaxies. This, however, is only part of the story. In reality, there is a lot of physics going on somewhere in the messy middle, scattered among the ordinary objects we encounter as we go about our daily life. From the buildings we live in to the screen you are reading this on, you will find physics principles at work pretty much everywhere you look – often hiding in plain sight.
In his book Stuff Matters, author and materials engineer Mark Miodownik turns a bright spotlight on the hidden physics and chemistry of everyday materials. Weaving together science and storytelling, he shows readers that these materials are both fascinating in their own right and an essential part of what defines us as human beings – ingenious, tool-using creatures who, for good or ill, have the power to modify our environment to suit our needs. For this, and for bringing a bit of sparkle to a field that has too often been overlooked in popular-science writing, Stuff Matters is Physics World‘s 2014 “Book of the Year”.
Miodownik’s book beat several other strong candidates on Physics World‘s shortlist of 10. To be eligible for this shortlist, a book first had to be selected for review in the magazine in 2014 – a fairly high hurdle, as there are always many more good books published than we have space to review. It also had to win the approval of the external expert or staff member who reviewed it. Members of the magazine’s editorial team then winnowed this list of standouts down to 10 books that we considered particularly well written, scientifically interesting and novel – the three criteria we have stuck with since 2009, when Graham Farmelo’s biography of Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man, became our first “book of the year”.
Although Stuff Matters grabbed the top spot for 2014, we think all of the books on this year’s shortlist are well worth reading. You can hear more about a few of them – and also listen to Miodownik talk about his award-winning book – in our latest podcast, in which Physics World‘s editor Matin Durrani and reviews editor Margaret Harris discuss some of their favourites with host James Dacey.
So, congratulations to Miodownik and all the other shortlisted authors. If you want to keep up to date with physics books in 2015, be sure to keep an eye on the reviews section of this website. In the meantime, we hope some of you will follow our advice in the podcast, and head straight for your favourite bookstore or website to stock up on some of the best physics writing from 2014.