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J. E. Gordon’s classic introduction to the properties of materials used in engineering answers some fascinating and fundamental questions about how the structural world around us works. Gordon focuses on so-called strong materials–such as metals, wood, ceramics, glass, and bone–explaining in engaging and accessible terms the unique physical and chemical basis for their inherent structural qualities. He also shows how an in-depth understanding of these materials’ intrinsic strengths–and weaknesses–guides our engineering choices, allowing us to build the structures that support our society. This work is an enduring example of first-rate scientific communication. Philip Ball’s introduction describes Gordon’s career and the impact of his innovations in materials research, while also discussing how the field has evolved since Gordon wrote this enduring example of first-rate scientific communication.