Investigative journalist Vince Beiser's first book is 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.
Sand is indispensable to global shelter, mobility and convenience. Mixed with cement it makes concrete. When near-pure sand is melted, it becomes glass. Special quartz sand is refined into flawless silicon to produce computer chips like those that established the eponymous California valley. Scarce round grain sand from Wisconsin and Minnesota provides the raw material for the high-pressure "fracking" of oil and gas wells. Major cities such as Dubai, Chicago, Lagos, Singapore and Hong Kong have created whole neighborhoods out of transported and dredged sand. And, of course, where would the snowbirds go if there weren't miles and miles of coastal sand beaches? No wonder Beiser calls sand "the literal foundation of modern civilization."
Each life-enhancing application of sand and its many manufactured manifestations, however, creates a drain on the supply of this seemingly most common of resources. Beiser also explores the environmental and social implications of sand mining, the interstate highway system, fracking and the overbuilding of shoreline towers and marinas. In lucid prose, The World in a Grain illustrates the many marvels sand has brought to the world--while at the same time cautioning that without prudent use, the environment and sand's economic availability are threatened. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.