...Liquid has charms and demonstrates much of Miodownik’s literary flair, but sadly falls short of the quality of its predecessor. A major problem stems from the book’s central artifice in which a hypothetical transatlantic plane journey is used to highlight the different types of liquids that run our lives... The device starts off as being mildly entertaining (at best) but becomes a teeth-grinding irritant long before Miodownik has sucked his subject of its life blood. And that’s a shame because he is certainly a skilled and witty writer, his succinct style going some way towards overcoming the restrictions imposed by his book’s format. His description of a liquid as “a form of matter in which molecules swim around, making and breaking connections” is a neat one that helps explain just how fluids operate... But it is all too sporadic. In place of a few droplets of intriguing information, Liquid would have been a better read if it had provided at least a moderate flow of stimulating prose. As it is, the book leaves the reader feeling unrefreshed and rather drained.
An Elephant in Rome
" January 1, 2021 Read this issue IN THIS REVIEW AN ELEPHANT IN ROME Bernini, the Pope and the making of the Eternal City 224pp. Pallas Athene. £19.99. Loyd Grossman Acheerful bricolage of biography, art history, trivia and travelogue..."
— Times Literary Supplement
Writing a sparkling scientific study about a routine transatlantic flight on British Airways sounds like an improbable proposition. But it is a feat achieved by the celebrated materials scientist Mark Miodownik with his latest book, Liquid, a follow-up to his 2013 bestseller Stuff Matters... Miodownik’s appeal comes not only from his ability to explain the complexities of science and engineering but also from his acute social observations — his title at University College London is professor of materials and society... Building the book around the experiences that most readers will have experienced during long-distance flights is an original and entertaining way of structuring the narrative. Even Susan comes into her own at the end of the book. In a lovely twist that I won’t give away now, Miodownik discovers her identity after arriving in San Francisco — and feels furious that he had not tried to engage her in serious conversation during the flight.
In this book, he aims to convince us that liquids are “exciting and powerful … anarchic and slightly terrifying … delightful and dangerous”. And he succeeds... Miodownik is a professor of materials and society, though, and like many of the best science books Liquid is about people and relationships as much as it is about atoms and bonds... His gloriously pedantic description of how to make a good cup of tea is about the mineral content of the water and the temperature of the boil, but also about sophistication and comfort and home... The best thing about Liquid is this sense of delight in innovation – such as when Miodownik explains the workings of a ballpoint pen... Once again, he 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.
It’s a treat. I lost count of the number of “but why?” questions it answers. Some, I realise, I’ve never thought to ask. Why are you allowed no more than 100ml of liquid on a plane? Why does rain leave a film of dust on the windscreen? Why does ketchup come out in such a rush when you bang on the bottom of the bottle? And why are liquid-soap dispensers so, so wrong?... Towards the end of the book, Miodownik plunges into thrillingly futuristic liquid materials... This is a winning and hugely readable book. It is perhaps more of a rushing rapid than a deep pool, but it does persuade you that liquids are strange and wonderful — and that they really matter. And rapids, anyway, are more fun to splash in than pools.