Atoms Under the Floorboards
by Chris Woodford

Price at time of review: $27.00
336 pp.
Bloomsbury Children's Books
New York, NY
ISBN: 9781472912220

Grade Level: 9-College

Reviewed by Cary Seidman
Science Teacher

Science teachers’ bookshelves are not lacking for volumes that seek to explain the science of everyday life. Even so, within this crowded genre, Chris Woodford’s book stands out, both for its clarity and for the unusual phenomena he explains. David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work tackles similar issues, but Macaulay’s fine books rely on his graphics, while Woodford explains phenomena effectively with a minimum of visuals.

Atoms Under the Floorboards is so well written that one can happily read it from cover to cover. It also will be a good reference volume, and its thorough index will lead the interested student to a topic as specific as the operation of LED lights to more general areas such as why houses don’t collapse from their own weight. Woodford uses the conventional rooms and features of a typical house as the template for descriptions of science phenomena and principles which we encounter every day. The science is mostly basic and not too technical, and there is very little math.

What sets this book apart are the quirky ideas Woodford chooses to investigate. Why, for example, can we see through a thick sheet of glass, but not through a thin sheet of copper? How do the transparency and opacity of these substances relate to their other properties? In addition to the basics of construction and the logic behind various aspects of the construction of a house, Woodford explains some of the high tech features of our lives, such as digital technology. He is at his best when he delves into topics like why ice is slippery (the answer will surprise most readers) and how different kinds of glue work. Each short chapter contains gems of lucid, accessible science writing. Students and teachers alike will be captivated not only by the answers to questions about our daily lives, but by the imaginative subject matter Woodford has selected. Classes in chemistry, physics, materials science, and even biology (there is a wonderful chapter on nutrition and metabolism) will find this book both enjoyable and informative.

Review posted on 7/17/2015

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