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Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart
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Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  262 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Did you know—

• It took more than an iceberg to sink the Titanic.
• The Challenger disaster was predicted.
• Unbreakable glass dinnerware had its origin in railroad lanterns.
• A football team cannot lose momentum.
• Mercury thermometers are prohibited on airplanes for a crucial reason.
• Kryptonite bicycle locks are easily broken.

“Things fall apart” is more than a poetic insig
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Broadway Books (first published 2003)
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Mar 03, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Patrick

This is – hands down – the most atrocious book I’ve read so far this year, and probably within the last three years. I’m sure the author is technically competent in his field, whatever it is, but his reasons for writing this particular book are a complete mystery. I suspect he believes he has written something that is accessible to the general reader. To the contrary, this book is an incomprehensible, indigestible mess, in which all he does is manage to display his singular pedagogical ineptness
Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: David, Michael, Diana, Meri
This is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.

It is definitely a science book (specifically, it is about "fracture mechanics" according to the Library of Congress cataloging data and about "molecular physics" according to the ISBN box on the back cover). However, if all of the science books and classes I took in high school presented their information like the author does in this book, I would have found those subjects a lot more interesting.

I will be re-reading this agai
Aug 22, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Supposedly a study about the recent discoveries concerning why materials break, this book is actually 50% about the author's personal and professional life (consisting mostly of academic slights he has suffered), 3/8 about lawsuits and society's changing attitude to broken things, and 1/8 about why things actually break. If you had a material science course in college you know the technology stuff already, and if you didn't there have got to be better places to find out about it than this book. ...more
Aug 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Non-fiction. This is one of those science books that purports to be written for the common reader, full of easy to understand physics and a catchy cover that doesn't look anything like a textbook. They were half right. The author obviously loves talking about materials science and why things break, and he has a certain geeky sense of humor about it too, but I phased in and out of this book like a hologram on the blink. One moment things would make perfect sense, and the next I found myself cross ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it liked it
The beginning of this book grabbed my interest, unfortunately the end of the book did not. I felt the end of the book strayed away from the them off this book - why things break to what is wrong with research or more what is wrong with research in the US. Although I agree with many of the writers points since my job supports many research efforts,I feel it would have been better to keep with the theme of the book.
Daniel Widrew
Some good science and some bad science. Some effective explanations and some incoherent explanations. All framed by a boring narrative of the author's career course. A relatively lame pop science book, but 3 stars for it giving me some good insight into things I hadn't understood and/or considered before.
Sep 05, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Too much about the author's personal work and not enough general theory or real-world applications (in a book about fracture and failure there shoulda been some of that), although if you are a chemistry/science nerd there are some cool nuggets in here...
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Started out well with some great anecdotes and explanations but it felt as the book wore on, the author ran out of good examples to use. Overall an ok read
Pat Cummings
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
In this delightful treatise, materials theorist Eberhart explores the whys of the ways in which materials fail. This is not like the engineering question, "what cross-sectional area of substance x is required to sustain stresses of force y for a time period of z, under given environmental conditions." Eberhart explains:
I usually say, "I am a quantum chemist"... [T]o have fun, however, I say, "My research is concerned with the study of why things break." Usually a look of satisfaction appears on
Bill Mutch
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here's a book that lands happily in the huge gap between 'Dick & Jane Science,' and totally technical review of a field aimed at professionals. There used to be considerable market for science non-fiction aimed at reasonably well educated, reasonably intelligent lay people who simply want to be better informed about current understanding of the world in science. I like to think of myself that way, and consequently enjoyed this narrative of one scientists journey from curious child, then und ...more
Apr 16, 2008 rated it it was ok
A friend recommended this book, so I bought it and gave it a read.

It's a fast read, and the topic is fracture. The author is a professor at Colorado School of Mines, and the book is a summation of his career as well as his field of study.

The apparent upshot of it all is that the concept of materials "DESIGN", meaning the intentional creation of materials (mostly metals) with specific properties has been a Holy Grail of metallurgists for a long time, and he explores why this has been complicated
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction, 2015
Quite simply I never thought I'd describe a book on material science as "gripping". The first 150 pages are simply a compendium of amazing facts ranging from when airplanes break to history from the viewpoint of materials science to how resilient Radio-isotope Thermoelectric Generators are.

Very early, the author grabs your attention by differentiating between asking "when" things break and "why" things break. This question is captivating as he runs through why the area of research was ignored fo
Oct 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book! I guess I hadn't really thought about why ceramics are hard or what exactly makes them ceramics, nor the different ways the steel can be tempered and what was so neat about how the samurais would harden their blades. I am interested in the topic because of what it might show me about the non-reducibility of some properties in higher-level sciences. The explanations that material scientists give for the strength or viscosity of materials often apply to large classes of m ...more
Jerry Smith
eberhart is an entertaining writer and does his best to make a highly complex situation clear to the layman. I think he just about succeeds and some of the examples are very illustrative.

I once heard a quotation that went along the lines of: "if you understand Quantum Theory you don't understand it" and that was appropriate here on occasion. When he gets into discussing entropy and examples of the lawsof thermodynamics I was holding on by my fingernails!

As I say it is interesting stuff but for
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Part biography, part description of fracture mechanics, and part social comment, this book is a bit hard to categorize. I enjoyed it, but others might find it a bit rambly. I thought the technical material was well handled. I learned things from it, but never felt like I needed my formal coursework in order to do so.

I had another, more personal, interest in this book. In part, it's a chronicle of the academic career of a successful scientist who isn't an academic rockstar. So it's nice to see w
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book explains why different materials break (or bend or stretch, etc.) under different circumstances. It tells why the Titanic sank (contaminated steel that broke when it should have bent), how to break a Kryptonite lock, why Corelle dishes resist breaking, how safety glass works, etc. It also gives some history of associated research.

Dr. Eberhart is a professor of chemistry and the explanations involve pretty heavy-duty chemistry at times, but not always. I struggled here and there, but en
Jul 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Nice basic review of fracture, absorption and embrittlement with somewhat entertaining stories. And somewhat hilarious how he indirectly mentions his pitfalls and how they lead to failures.

However the last few chapters on charge density doesn't really help at all. To me it was like his search was just comparing fingerprints and saying this material was stronger because it fit into the category 1 of prints rather than providing a true explanation of why. Yes, he did combine it with chemical bondi
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. My background is in software and bioinformatics, so I know very little about materials engineering and was interested to learn more. The author writes very clearly and with sufficient detail that I never felt like I was left still wondering. Since this book I've picked up a couple other materials/building type books 'Why Buildings Fall Down' by Matthys Levy and 'To Engineer is Human' by Henry Petroski and while entertaining had neither the depth or captivating style that I ...more
Dec 20, 2010 rated it liked it
The author is snarky and somewhat self-important, but his way of looking at the world as a collection of almost infinitely rearrangeable constructs is engaging and works especially well metaphorically as a description of the mental world, in which ideas are constantly breaking along previously invisible fault lines and reconfiguring themselves into shapes that would have been difficult to predict in advance. Fun.
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Entropy. Embrittlement. If you are looking for a reason why the Titanic or the Challenger failed, look no further. Understanding what makes things break is perhaps just as important as what makes things work. Although I have never taken so much as high school chemistry class, I found this book very easy to read. His analogies are easy to picture and understand.
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it
A bit more geeky and down in the weeds than I expected. (Electron-clouds deep...)
At least I now know why you're not allowed to take a mercury thermometer on an aeroplane. And it's not because its vapour is poisonous. And why the Titanic fell apart...
Easy enough read, but it's not as macro-level as some readers may expect.
Jan 24, 2008 rated it liked it
What I learned from this book? Some physics and materials science. Tension and compression. Thermal shock. If only someone had made my science/physics textbook practical and entertaining in 12th grade... I might not have transfered to choir. Instead I pick up physics 20 yrs later, and enjoy learning about it from nutjobs like this guy. A fun read.
Nica  Noelle
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books. Great for promoting big picture thinking and applying these principles to every aspect of life -- how to keep things from breaking, or in the alternative, how to break them in the most elegant fashion.
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Eberhart explains the science of "breakage" and related topics. Autobiographical. Somewhat technical but accessible to non-scientists like myself. You need to have an intense interest in the science in order to enjoy this book.
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Would have been a much better long article.
Great information presented awkwardly.
Though, I did buy his next book even with this two star review.
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read on theoretical quantum chemistry and the scientific process. Well written, although not always well organized.
Jun 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature-etc
See Punk's review.
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Pretty fun book for science nerds and people that like science. I felt it was written well enough to reach a wide audience.
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: work-read
Interesting and entertaining, but didn't really learn much. A number of "why things break" examples.
Apr 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Reading this made me love glass. More than I already did, which is a lot.
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“I do not often get involved in litigation, largely because it is often simply impossible to conclude with scientific certainty what caused something to break. The fact that almost every case involves opposing experts just serves to confirm this difficulty.” 0 likes
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