Chris Woodford
Bloomsbury Sigma
2015| 336p | £9.99
ISBN 9781472912220
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A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a park enjoying the sunshine and reading Chris Woodford’s book Atoms under the floorboards. Nearby, a man was teaching his five or six year old son how to ride a bicycle. It brought back memories of practising on my own bike with my dad in our back garden. As I read on, it dawned on me that, since that experience, I had never stopped to question the fact that a bicycle’s wheels are mostly made of, well, nothing. How is it that two hollow wheels, only supported by a few spindly spokes that you can bend with your fingers, can hold the weight of a bicycle’s frame and the fully grown person sitting on it? If you want to know the surprising answer to that question, and many more like it, you can find out in Woodford’s newest book (spoiler: it’s got something to do with suspension bridges).

Atoms under the floorboards is an exploration of the amazing science behind the aspects of daily life that usually go unquestioned. Covering everything from post-it notes to latex and internal combustion engines, the book takes us on a journey around our house (and driveway), informing the reader about the fascinating inner workings of everyday items that we so often take for granted. 

It’s written in a style that is accessible to anyone, regardless of whether they have a background in science. While I’m not 100% certain that the author stuck to his promise to avoid maths wherever possible (I tied myself in knots doing arithmetic by the third page!), Woodford does explain some quite complicated technologies, as well as fundamental scientific principles, with impressive clarity. Each chapter sets out to answer a series of questions within a particular theme – glues, food, clothing and so on – and does so with the help of amusing examples, intriguing anecdotes and useful diagrams. The whole book is meticulously referenced, with an extensive bibliography and suggested sources for further reading.

Atoms under the floorboards would be a brilliant read for any enthusiastic young scientists, or perhaps secondary-school science teachers looking for some creative analogies to help explain difficult concepts. It is certainly a book that will leave the reader looking at their house and all of their possessions in a completely new light. For anyone wanting a fresh perspective and some detailed insight into even the most seemingly mundane of objects, it’s a must-read.