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Good Reads  Reference  Physical Sciences  Popular Science

Liquid The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives

Popular Science
By: Mark Miodownik(Author)
276 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables
Publisher: Penguin Books
An amusing pop-science jaunt through the chemistry and physics of all the liquids that flow and slosh through our daily lives.
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  • Liquid ISBN: 9780241977323 Paperback Jul 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
  • Liquid ISBN: 9780241977293 Hardback Sep 2018 Out of Print #244741
Selected version: £10.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

By the author of the prize-winning Stuff Matters.

A series of glasses of transparent liquids is in front of you: but which will quench your thirst and which will kill you? And why? Why does one make us drunk, and another power a jumbo jet?

This fascinating new book by the bestselling scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik is an expert tour of the world of the droplets, heartbeats and ocean waves that we come across every day. Structured around a plane journey which sees encounters with substances from water and glue to coffee and wine, he shows how these liquids can bring death and destruction as well as wonder and fascination.

From László Bíró's revolutionary pen and Abraham Gesner's kerosene to cutting-edge research on self-repairing roads and liquid computers, Miodownik uses his winning formula of scientific storytelling to bring the everyday to life. He reveals why liquids can flow up a tree but down a hill, why oil is sticky, how waves can travel so far, and how to make the perfect cup of tea.

Here are the secret lives of substances that we rely on but rarely understand.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An amusing jaunt through our daily liquids
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 8 Mar 2019 Written for Paperback

    “A series of glasses with transparent liquids is in front of you, but which will quench your thirst and which will kill you?” Thus asks the dust jacket of Liquid of the reader. In this imagined game of liquid Russian roulette, one glass will get you drunk (vodka), the other kills you (kerosene), while a third will bring you no harm (water). But why? In Liquid, materials scientist Mark Miodownik takes an amusing romp through the chemistry and physics of the liquids of our everyday life.

    Narrated as one man’s thoughts and reflections during a transatlantic flight from London to San Francisco, Miodownik dwells on a range of interesting properties of liquids. The book opens with a canned history of liquid fuels, from wax, olive oil, and whale blubber, to modern hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene. A related class of molecules, on the other hand, will get you drunk (see more in my next review of The Drunken Monkey). Wine (see also A Natural History of Wine and The Science of Wine) is steeped in mythology, some of it grounded in reality (the temperature at which you serve it), while other parts are delusional (the discerning abilities of wine tasting experts).

    How do glues work? Why can Post-It notes be reused, while superglue binds things almost irreversibly? (And, wait, we glue aeroplanes together??). The magic worked by liquid crystal displays (better known as LCDs), the grossness of bodily fluids (except when we’re kissing), or a very British jaunt into the particulars of what makes the perfect cup of tea, Miodownik touches on all sorts of topics. Liquids allow us to clean ourselves, refrigerate food, and write. Especially the history of László Biró’s pen, the biro or ballpoint pen, is very interesting.

    But liquids and liquid-like properties also play a role on a planetary scale, in fields such as meteorology (cloud formation), oceanography (waves and tsunamis), or structural geology and plate tectonics (earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building). While Miodownik talks of the delights of catching the perfect wave when surfing (see also The Wave), other topics such as rogue waves (see Rogue Waves), tides (see Tide), or ocean currents (see The Great Ocean Conveyor) are not mentioned.

    The thing is, there are many stories that could be told here, but Liquid is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment. Miodownik instead uses his narrative structure to focus on the liquids we encounter in our daily lives and spins off his tales from there. Little hand-scribbled drawings highlight how the different properties are a function of the molecular structure of a liquid. There is also a selection of black-and-white photos, although their reproduction and size sometimes had me look twice to figure out what I was seeing.

    And then there is Susan, a fellow passenger who has to suffer Miodownik’s zaniness and social awkwardness. This element might feel slightly forced, although some of the situations he recounts are embarrassingly familiar (falling asleep on a fellow passenger?). As he later reveals, it’s a shame they never got talking during the flight.

    All in all, Liquid is popular science of a high level, avoiding factoid lists and the hysterical “OMG, did you know?!!” tone. Instead, Miodownik knows how to spin a fine yarn and his writing is amusing without being silly, informative without being patronising. He proves himself the teacher we all would have wished for in our high school chemistry and physics classes.
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A Financial Times Master of Science and chosen by The Times as one of the 100 most influential scientists in the UK, Mark Miodownik is Professor of Materials and Society at University College London, where he is also Director of the Institute of Making. He is the author of the NYT bestselling Stuff Matters and presents BBC TV programmes on science and engineering. He writes regularly for the Guardian and Observer.

Popular Science
By: Mark Miodownik(Author)
276 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables
Publisher: Penguin Books
An amusing pop-science jaunt through the chemistry and physics of all the liquids that flow and slosh through our daily lives.
Media reviews

"A witty, smart writer who has a great talent"
– Bill Gates

"Miodownik packs this delightful book with so much 'well, I never knew that' information. Not only does he know his stuff but, just as importantly, he knows how to tell a good story. A truly delightful read"
– Jim Al-Khalili, author of Paradox

"It's a little known fact that liquids are the coolest state of matter. And if anyone can spread that message all around him, it's Mark Miodownik. From ink to saliva, coffee to soap, this is an exhilarating, eye-opening ride."
– Philip Ball, science writer and author of H2O: A Biography of Water

"A brilliantly navigated journey through the scientific marvels of the fluid world, from coffee to kerosene, from tea to tar, from honey to hydrophobia, from peanut butter to perfluorocarbons. A thrilling read, from start to finish"
– Tim Radford, author of The Consolations of Physics: Why the Wonders of the Universe Can Make You Happy

"Miodownik is a materials scientist, but really he is an alchemist; he transforms knowledge of everyday stuff into literary gold. His book on liquids oozes brilliance on every page"
– Alex Bellos, author of Alex Through the Looking Glass

"This book delivers exactly what it promises [...] It's a treat. I lost count of the number of "but why?" questions it answers [...] This is a winning and hugely readable book"
– James McConnachie, The Sunday Times

"Once again, Miodownik has written a book much like the substances it describes: exciting, anarchic and surprising. Like the sea, it covers a lot of ground. And like a perfectly made cup of tea, it is warm, comforting and very refreshing"
– Katy Guest, The Guardian

"Miodownik yet again makes the seemingly mundane awe-inspiring. I'll never look at a ballpoint pen the same way again"
– Kelly and Zach Weinersmith, New York Times-bestselling authors of Soonish

"Mark Miodownik flies high again in Liquid. It's a treat to see the world through his eyes as he flows from topic to topic, and under his gaze even the most mundane things-ballpoint pens, ketchup bottles, a cup of tea-sizzle with significance"
– Sam Kean, New York Times-bestselling author of The Disappearing Spoon and Caesar's Last Breath

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