Why did I write this book?
Basically I had an idea and thought "Why not?". A chance conversation with a publisher (Andrew Carrick) led me to actually write down a proposal for a book and as I wrote the proposal, the nature of what I intended to do became clearer. The key things I wanted to do were to write a book that was (a) accessible to non-specialists, (b) useful, and (c) had explanations in it. The way in which I wanted to achive these things was to first state as plainly as I could how 'matter' behaves. I thought that if this was introduced with as little theoretical content as possible then it would be very accessible. And then I could try to explain why matter had the properties it does. This might be hard, but whether I succeded or not, people would at least have seen what happened. And familiarity is the first step to understanding.

In its first draft, the book had the pairs of chapters as it does now, but the first chapter of each pair contained only data tables and graphs, with no theoretical introduction at all. The second chapter then referred back to these data chapters. Mike Holmes from the University of Central Lancashire suggested that some kind of introduction to each pair of chapters would make the book more accessible and useful, and that constantly referring back to data tables would drive readers around the bend. And so the current structure of the book evolved.

Why a second edition?
I now think this was a mistake. I liked the first edition, and littered with mistakes as it was, at least most of them were not mine! But when the chance of a second edition arose, I was still working as an academic at UCL, and had ambitious plans for what I could achieve. As a real working person and parent I have been stretched to my limit (and possibly beyond) in preparing the second edition.

My real hope was that by using the web it might be possible to keep the text alive, and to get students involved in actively looking at data and analysing it. This may or may not come to pass. Building and maintaining web sites is hard work, and unlike preparing texts for publication, it never ends!


Michael de Podesta 5/4/2002