One of the best books on materials that provides clear digestable examples is "Mutant Materials" by Paola Antonelli of the Musuem of Modern Art (MOMA) in 1995. I would love to find a copy of the book at a reasonable price.
"The best example of this revolution in design materials is the experimentation with composites, one of the more significant advances in twentieth-century technology. Composites are combinations of materials and of their individual properties. The most frequently used are compounds of thermosetting resins, which are lightweight and corrosion-resistant, and glass or carbon fibers, which are strong as well as flexible. Such hybrid materials have revolutionized the manufacture of a wide range of objects, particularly sports and medical equipment and automobile and airplane components.
Design can be described as the attempt to achieve a goal (an ideal object) using the available means (materials and techniques). The new, mutable character of materials, as expressive as it is functional, has generated new forms as well as a more experimental approach toward design. The goal of this exhibition is to offer insight into this new approach--a redefinition of the relationship between designers and the materials they use. The selected objects are diverse and express the technical and formal possibilities of both new materials and new technologies, through an evolving, rather than codified, contemporary language. Each possesses a logical beauty. Collectively, they portray an aesthetic centered on economy and continuing research."
The book contains definitions, examples as well as images of the materials used in modern design.
Mutant Materials Online Resource