Why Things Break

Mark Eberhart

Read November 2005

Autobiographies are a tricky business. They presume a certain self-importance which, unfortunately, the author must then strive to confirm. The whole affair can thus easily spiral out of control. In contrast, the autobiography of an unimportant person can be great fun, and that's just what this book is.

Eberhart interweaves his own personal history—with interludes about how science research works—with an account of his field. He takes some pains to inform us that he is not a materials scientist but rather a quantum chemist; unfortunately, he never provides enough detail to make the difference clear enough to someone scientifically literate. Indeed, there's too little about the title of this book. But he does provide fascinating accounts of the development of some materials, such as Corning Corelle glass. Similarly, he takes on protests against nuclear power in rockets with the venom of one who has encountered too many stupid reporters. Only sometimes does he come unglued on extended rants about social perceptions of sciences that have nothing to do with his own. Overall, though, he must be a terrific professor.

One tiny nit: he consistently misspells the name of his co-author, Clyde Briant, as ``Bryant''. Not, I suspect, that anyone would notice.