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Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal Hardcover – December 3, 2013
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The financial crisis of 2008 pushed the price of gold to more than $1,000 an ounce, giving new allure to a commodity long considered precious, even sacred. Veteran journalist Hart begins with an astonishing chronicle of the arduous work of miners and thieves in a South African gold mine miles under the earth in a feverish hunt for the metal that seems to inevitably tie wealth to corruption. It’s an old story Hart traces, from the Spanish conquest of Incan gold to the American gold rush of the 1800s to modern-day speculation in the face of financial uncertainty. Gold has figured prominently in international market booms and busts, monetary policy within nations, and debate about the virtues and drawbacks of the gold standard. Even as the U.S. dollar has come to dominate the global financial system, gold has never lost its glittering appeal. From deep within the gold mines of South Africa and China to corporate boardrooms, from miners and thieves to body guards and gold traders, Hart (Diamond, 2001) offers a fascinating look at the geology, geopolitics, and economics of gold. --Vanessa Bush
“From deep within the gold mines of South Africa and China to corporate boardrooms, from miners and thieves to body guards and gold traders, Hart (Diamond, 2001) offers a fascinating look at the geology, geopolitics, and economics of gold.” (Booklist)
“With remarkable clarity, Hart reveals our historical and economic relationship with this beguiling metal... Hart’s deceptively breezy book examines a simple mineral that the human mind has transformed into something so much more complicated.” (Publishers Weekly (starred))
“In his absorbing book Gold, Matthew Hart looks at the precious metal both as a mineral … and as an idea that has evolved in dizzyingly strange ways through the millenniums.” (Columbus Dispatch)
“[A]n impressionistic portrait of an industry that blends history, science, colorful character sketches, and lively firsthand accounts of the author’s travels” (The Daily Beast)
“[E]ngaging and rollicking” (Forumblog.com)
"Gold does a splendid job of transporting readers from one defining moment in the history of gold to the next." (Mining.com)
"Hart’s book offers a compelling, stylish, and impressively researched portrait of the history and economics of a metal that has disrupted the world order while enriching some and ruining countless others... He is a talented storyteller." (Boston Globe)
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Top customer reviews
Its worthwhile to compare this book with Bernstein's "The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession," which is the other major popular book on the subject of gold. Bernstein's book is older, more widely read, and tells a much more conventional story of gold, with more attention to the history of gold. It is also reads like it was written by a committee and punched up by a consultant. Hart's story is much more up to date and much better told, and brings a welcome focus to the post-2008 world of gold (especially after 2008, when the gold radically increased in value). If you had to chose to read only one book on gold, I'd recommend Hart's book over Bernstein's.
That said, there are imperfections in this book. The book is clearly conceptualized and has an overarching narrative -- Hart wants to show us that our desire for gold is ultimately irrational, and leads to gold rushes (both geological and financial) that lead to dangerous and unpredictable outcomes for people caught up in them. Its a valuable lesson. But I feel Hart could have done a better job using this theme to lead us through the material in the book. Also, the chapters seem unfocused at times. Hart has trouble not telling a good story when he runs across one, and as a result chapters sometimes veer off in unexpected directions (the conquest of the Ashanti and the Brink's-Mat Heist are good examples of this). Hart's discussion of the impact of mining on developing nations doesn't draw on any of the social science in this area. And in a story of gold rushes in Africa, mightn't we expect more on the history of gold rushes in California, Australia or Alaska? In a book of this scope, I suppose its inevitable that only some topics get attention, and one drawback of this is that some readers may find the topics they care about discussed to little, or not enough.
But overall, I give the book high marks. It conveys the excitement of mining without degenerating into overheated prose, and gives a good sense of the world of gold mining (particularly on the ground) to readers who will probably never run a sluice, let alone a flot mill. Insiders in the mining world will have to wade through some of what they know already to get at the bigger picture. But there's no doubt this is an excellent first step for readers interested in gold, especially for those wanting to go deeper -- half of the book is endnotes.
Here's a list of the topics by chapter:
The first chapter deals with illegal miners in South Africa.
The second chapter tells the story of Spanish conquest in the new world and the role of gold in that story. The account of Pizarro's capture of Atahualpa here is better than that in Guns, Germs, and Steel.
The third chapter examines the role of gold and silver in the world economy, especially in the nineteenth century, and covers arguments about bimetallism and the gold standard, topics that not every author manages to make as interesting as Hart does.
The fourth chapter discusses Nixon's decision to decouple the dollar from gold.
The fifth chapter is an account of the Carlin Trend in Nevada and the rise of a modern mining industry that exploits microscopic gold finds.
The sixth chapter focuses on the growth of Barrick gold.
The seventh chapter moves to China and tells the story both of the Linglong gold mine, and of the history of Chinese gold mining in general, with a focus on the changing relationship the government has to artisanal and medium-scale mining.
The eighth chapter discusses the difficulties that majors have getting a foothold in China and the dangers of nationalization.
Chapter nine describes the secretive world of gold trading and the securitization of gold as a commodity.
Chapter ten continues this discussion of secrecy by describing the more secretive, and at times criminal, aspects of the gold market, ranging from bank robberies to price fixing.
The last two chapters describe gold mining in Africa, both in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The book describes both artisanal mining and the large-scale Kibali mine.
So in sum, I'd highly recommend this book, despite its occasional imperfections.
Even more enlightening is the description of the 'blood' aspect of production: the desperate labor of the poor and often lawless miners is chilling. Amazing efforts go into producing minuscule amounts of this pretty but not especially useful metal.
If you are of a technical mind-set or are interested in gold for its monetary aspects, this book makes a very good read.
Criticisms are the weak organization, which is a challenge at best with so many sub-topics, and relatively little discussion of the environmental and social effects plaguing modern mining, especially when gold prices are so high. Indeed, the New York Times ran an article about massive recent off-the-books and illegal mercury imports into Indonesia, to support low level mining of gold.
I am sure one could write much longer about the subject...but alas, the book must be of finite length!
The book succeeds very well in debunking the aura that so often surrounds investment in the metal, particularly the value linkage between money and the metal. i would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the state of the current gold market and how one should approach in investment in the metal.
A good read