A finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
The gripping story of the most important overlooked commodity in the world--sand--and the crucial role it plays in our lives.
After water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other--even more than oil. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every computer screen and silicon chip, is made from sand. From Egypt's pyramids to the Hubble telescope, from the world's tallest skyscraper to the sidewalk below it, from Chartres' stained-glass windows to your iPhone, sand shelters us, empowers us, engages us, and inspires us. It's the ingredient that makes possible our cities, our science, our lives--and our future.
And, incredibly, we're running out of it.
The World in a Grain is the compelling true story of the hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more essential every day, and of the people who mine it, sell it, build with it--and sometimes, even kill for it. It's also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand, which has received little public attention. Not all sand is created equal: Some of the easiest sand to get to is the least useful. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, taking readers on a journey across the globe, from the United States to remote corners of India, China, and Dubai to explain why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, readers encounter world-changing innovators, island-building entrepreneurs, desert fighters, and murderous sand pirates. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, rippling with fascinating detail and filled with surprising characters.
What does sand the humble stuff of beaches and dunes have to do with the making of the contemporary world? Quite a lot, actually, says journalist Beiser. He argues that sand, with its extraordinary range of properties, including durability and pliancy, is "the most important solid substance on earth... that makes modern life possible." Sand is the key ingredient in concrete buildings and highways; in the form of glass, it is "the thing that lets us see everything" through windows, microscope lenses, eyeglasses, and smartphone screens. But due to the explosion in its uses and the increasing number and size of cities, sand is running out: the book is at its urgent best in chapters on the black market in sand and the sand mafias that brutally exercise control over resources in places like Raipur Khadar, a farming village south of New Delhi, whose ecosystem has been plundered by the demand for sand. The flip side of the story of modern life is, of course, the story of ecological devastation: Beiser moves from the denuded beaches of St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, to the replanted deserts of Inner Mongolia, showing the true cost of the "sand wars." Breezily written and with insights on every page, this is an eye-opening look at a resource too often taken for granted.
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Who would have thought that a book about sand could be so fascinating! Highly recommend!