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Except for water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other-more than oil, more than natural gas. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every computer screen and silicon chip, exists because of 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 Chihuly sculptures 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 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 important every day, and some of the people who use it, sell it, recycle it, and destroy it. It's also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs surrounding sand and the profound global significance, which has received little public attention. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, explaining why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, readers encounter sand pirates, become aware of child sand miners, and learn that not all sand is created equal: Some of the easiest sand to get to is the least useful. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, full of fascinating detail and populated by surprising people.
Vince Beiser is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Wired, Harper's, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Los Angeles.
"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 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