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The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization Hardcover – August 7, 2018
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“Beiser peppers research with first-person interviews in an engaging and nuanced introduction to the ways sand has shaped the world.... stunning.” —NPR
“Beiser’s eye-opening study clarifies the science and the huge role of sand in heavy and high-tech industry. Perhaps most compelling is his exposé of sand mining, which obliterates islands, destroys coral reefs and marine biodiversity, and threatens livelihoods. A powerful lens on an under-reported environmental crisis.” —Nature
“Whether in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, or India, [Beiser] exhibits a flare for detailing the human drama through prose.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“I thought I knew the basics of sustainability, but this lucid, eye-opening book made me feel like a dolt in the best possible aha-moment way: I'd simply never registered how much of the contemporary world—our concrete and glass buildings and asphalt roads and silicone-based digital devices and so much more—is entirely, voraciously sand-dependent. And the looming global sand crisis: who knew?” —Kurt Andersen, author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History
“A fresh history of 'the most important solid substance on Earth, the literal foundation of modern civilization.' Books on a single, familiar topic (salt, cod, etc.) have an eager audience, and readers will find this an entirely satisfying addition to the genre.” —Kirkus Reviews
“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... Breezily written and with insights on every page, this is an eye-opening look at a resource too often taken for granted.” —Publishers Weekly
“A rich study of one of the world's most abundant natural resources: sand. With a balance of statistics, science, history, on-the-scene reporting and some healthy environmental skepticism, The World in a Grain highlights the ways this ubiquitous global commodity has been essential to human development and advancement.” —Shelf Awareness
“The World in a Grain is nothing less than one of the best reporters working today unpacking the literal foundations of civilization. Everything we are, everywhere we live, is built on or out of sand, and Vince Beiser tells the best story of where that sand comes from, who moves it, and what they build from it. It's a whole new way of seeing the world.” —Adam Rogers, author of Proof: The Science of Booze
“Modern life, as Vince Beiser compellingly explains, is literally made of sand. Yet we have been so profligate with this seemingly inexhaustible resource that for many uses in many parts of the world we are running out. The World in a Grain is a chronicle of innovation and greed and heedless waste—in brief, the story of civilization.” —David Owen, author of Where the Water Goes
“A riveting, wonderfully written investigation into the many kinds of castles the world has built out of sand. You'll find something new, and something fascinating, on every page. Perhaps even in every paragraph.” —Nicholas Thompson, author of The Hawk and the Dove
“Sand shortage? Black market in sand? Secret sand heists? Who knew? I certainly didn’t before reading this lively and eye-opening book about a material I’d always assumed almost infinite. Vince Beiser shows, with great skill, that this key component of our fragile, over-consuming planet we need to better understand, conserve and protect.” —Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0399576428
- ISBN-13 : 978-0399576423
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.01 x 9.3 inches
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; First Edition (August 7, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #691,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Beiser provides us with a both revealing and at the same time a very concerning summary of the world's every day usages of sand and the alarming depletion this non-regenerating material. A virtual textbook, the extensive research he has done in pursuit of the uses and sources of the various types of sand available throughout the world is evidenced by the manner in which he lays out his detailed findings in very easy to follow and understanding way.
Beiser also sounds the alarm on two counts: the first being the very rapid acceleration of the use of sand by countries that before the 21st Century never used sand in any significant quantities and secondly, the deterioration of concrete structures due to aging which, he points out, is not an eternal product. These aged structures will sooner or later have to be demolished and/or will fail on their own requiring replacement which will add to the burden of the diminishing supply of sand.
Although Beiser doesn't foresee an immediate shortage of sand he finishes his book with a waning that sand is just one element of a much larger problem of the world, that being over-consumption. H e advises hat we all must learn to live more moderately with less, share with the world and attempt to develop alternative ways of construction and technology that requires less usage of SAND. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the many uses of sand and the long term forecast of it's potential for extinction.
Our civilization is built on sand
Well, as journalist Vince Beiser tells us in his revealing study of the subject, The World in a Grain, it's not strictly true. There's far more sand in the world's deserts than we would ever want, and they're growing. But it turns out that there are numerous varieties of sand. And the stuff in deserts like the Sahara or the Gobi just isn't suitable for use in concrete. The sand we do need to build all those buildings, manufacture computer chips, and lay all those roads, bridges, and dams is, indeed, becoming scarce. Just as is the case with oil, there may be more than enough of the stuff around, but it's getting harder, and more expensive, to get it out. The problem is, sand is "about the most taken-for-granted natural resource in the world." But it's "the stuff they used to pave paradise and put up a parking lot."
Who knew that the story of sand could be so fascinating?
Beiser's book is a revelation. Reporting on a subject that could bore us to tears, he has produced a fascinating study of the history of civilization from the perspective of the sand we've used to build it. And even his ventures into the complex technical aspects of making concrete and harvesting sand are hard to put down.Progress is our most important product . . . and it's killing us
The heart of the problem is the "progress" we celebrate as the fruits of civilization. "At the dawn of the twentieth century, almost all of the world's large structures . . . were made with stone, brick, clay, or wood. The tallest buildings on Earth stood fewer than ten stories high. Roads were mostly paved with broken stone, or more likely, not paved at all. Glass in the form of windows or tableware was a relatively rare and expensive luxury."
Producing cement results in releasing 5-10 percent of total carbon emissions worldwide
Then that all changed, as the automobile became a necessity, the science of making concrete advanced, and inventors found ways to automate the production of glass. Today, even though the use of sand in construction goes back at least to 7000 BCE, its use was never so widespread as to require extreme efforts to obtain it. But now "your life depends on sand. You may not realize it, but sand is there, making the way you live possible, in almost every minute of your day. We live in it, travel on it, communicate with it, surround ourselves with it." And the price we pay is huge: "Cement is made in at least 150 countries, and produces between 5 and 120 percent of the total carbon emissions worldwide."
You think concrete buildings and roads are permanent? Guess again.Unfortunately, even though we assume that buildings, dams, and bridges made of concrete reinforced with steel are permanent, that is far from the case. Concrete inevitably weakens over time, and can even collapse if the builders cut corners by using inferior sand. Beiser quotes an expert on the subject, who wrote "Hardly any of the concrete structures that now exist are capable of enduring two centuries, and many will begin to disintegrate after fifty years." If you're a member of the Millennial Generation, that may seem like a very long time. But take it from me. It's not. So don't expect permanence from a civilization built on sand.
Surprises galore in this fascinating book
The World in a Grain is full of surprises:
** Amazingly, "China alone used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the United States used in the entire twentieth century." But that should be no big surprise, since "[t]here are more than 220 Chinese cities with over a million inhabitants" compared to the whole of Europe, which counts only 35.
** The harvesting of sand is nearly universal—"There is no one key source, no Saudi Arabia of sand"—and it's everywhere damaging. (In fact, "Saudi Arabia is worried about running out of sand.") Sadly, the increasing competition for sand has led to more and more extreme measures to harvest it. And "[the] process of pulling sand from the earth [and from rivers and oceans] causes at best a little damage, and at worst, catastrophe."
** The increasing scarcity of sand suitable for use in making concrete and glass has led to the rise of crime. Beiser details numerous horror stories such as this one: "Thieves in Jamaica made off with 1,300 feet of white sand from one of the islands finest beaches in 2008" and "[s]and miners have completely obliterated at least two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005." Everywhere sand thieves operate, corruption and sometimes even murder comes in their wake.
** While rising ocean levels drown low-lying coastal areas around the globe, efforts by Singapore, Dubai, and Lagos to reclaim land support the "booming market in sand." Beiser notes that "human beings since 1985 have added 5,237 square miles of artificial land," which has consumed titanic quantities of sand.
** The roads and buildings we build with sand increase our need for air conditioning. "[P]aved areas can boost the temperature in some cities by as much as 19 degrees Fahrenheit."Rising prosperity and overpopulation are the root of the problemAs is the case with the depletion of other natural resources, the increasing difficulty we're facing is a direct result of overpopulation and the rise of prosperity around the world. "The building methods and materials that a hundred years ago were mostly confined to wealthy Western nations have in the past thirty spread to virtually every country," Beiser notes. "This epochal shift is what lies behind the sand crisis."
So, what can be done? There's really only one way to mitigate the problem, as Beiser sees it: use less stuff . . . and quickly.
This isn't that book. Beiser is a helluva storyteller, so the inventors, builders, risk takers and criminals who have brought us on our blissful trip to our sand-based built environment all spring to life. Glass, for instance: Beiser reflects on (sorry) it in Galileo's telescope , in the short but vital history of beer bottles and in your cell phone -and in any chip embedded in your worldly goods.
What's more, the crisis stage is fairly recent, the US market is not the culprit and there are many solutions... You CAN handle this knowledge, have fun acquiring it and take action. Even though it's Really Important.
Top reviews from other countries
As an industrial designer, I was also happy to read about some history of industrial design such as the Owen Industries, highway constructions and Miami beach replenishing. It makes a reader curious to learn more about different topics.
Knowledge is only power if you use it .