Review: Liquid by Mark Miodownik

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The amount of stuff we consume these days is staggering, but there are some things that we use day in day out that barely get our attention, the water that comes out of the tap that goes into the kettle to make your coffee. The liquid soap that you use to wash your hands, the ink that stays in the pen until you scribble on a notepad, the glass of something cold that helps you relax at the end of a busy week. All of these are liquids and they all lubricate our lives in one way or another.

But, if someone was to place three glasses full of clear liquids in front of you, which could you drink that is essential to life, which would power an aircraft and which would kill you if you knocked it over?

Mark Miodownik is best placed to explain all of these things being a materials engineer and Professor of Materials and Society at UCL and in this highly entertaining journey from London to San Francisco on a plane he describes and enlightens us about all the liquids that we use in the modern world. Beginning as he passes through security, and why we can’t take more than 100ml of fluids on board now, on to the pre-dinner drinks, the oceans that he is flying over and what liquids hold the plane he is on together.

The film he watches after diner allows him to explain liquid crystals and the way that most modern TV’s work before he nods off and wakes up dribbling on the passenger alongside him. From a discussion on body fluids, he moves swiftly onto the delights of coffee and tea and why they don’t taste quite the same over the Atlantic. A wash and brush up and then onto the history of inks, musings about clouds and liquids that sometimes think that they are solids, liquids that can flow uphill and new modern technologies like self-healing roads.

I thought that was a great companion volume to Stuff Matters and another very well written book by Miodownik. He has used a fair amount of artistic license to ensure that the narrative flows and to give him plenty of subjects to discuss as he travels from the UK to the United States. I do like the way that he talks about science in an engaging manner and the whole book is stuffed full of facts and interesting anecdotes, but there is only so much you can do from the viewpoint of an airline seat and he does veer a little off course occasionally. Well worth reading.

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  1. Annabel

    He’s a very entertaining writer and I loved that he could make himself the butt of the joke re the drool etc, and the running gag with Susan in the adjacent seat. Makes the science easier to sneak in – and as a materials scientist, I still found lots to enjoy that was new to me. Loved this book (and Stuff Matters too). The big question is will he move on to a book about gases?

    • admin

      Didn’t realise that you were a material scientist. Stuff Matters was really good too and he is such a good science and engineering communicator. He has to really, but how he will link that into what he does with materials, I have no idea. Have you read an Ocean of Air? It is really good

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