The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization

The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization

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...

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Title:The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization
Author:Vince Beiser
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The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization Reviews

  • Karen

    As if there isn't enough to worry about with the over population of the world...just wait until you delve through this one which is a real eye-opener on just what humans (the most invasive species of all) are doing to our planet. Sand is the 3rd most used natural resource after water and air and is in everything you have around you from your phone, your shampoo, toothpaste, the foundation of your house, the road you drive on and the paint on your walls-to name just a few; and the world is using

    As if there isn't enough to worry about with the over population of the world...just wait until you delve through this one which is a real eye-opener on just what humans (the most invasive species of all) are doing to our planet. Sand is the 3rd most used natural resource after water and air and is in everything you have around you from your phone, your shampoo, toothpaste, the foundation of your house, the road you drive on and the paint on your walls-to name just a few; and the world is using it up at an alarming rate. I know you are thinking we would never use up all the sand in the world...well, think again because desert sands can't be used (read the book to learn why) so that leaves ocean floors and river beds that are being decimated and all the wildlife and coral reefs right along with them. Dubai is building palm shaped islands off its coast made out of sand and China is the world's largest asphalt consumer. There is a highway linking Beijing with Hong Kong that is a full 50 lanes wide! This book is a well written horror story...except it's non-fiction and if the world doesn't wake up to what humans are doing to it...just picture that hour glass filled with sand....when it's empty.

  • Karen Fierman

    This is THE best nonfiction book I've read in a LONG time! I'm a person who's not very interested in things science/nature/technology, so it was rather a fluke that I even read it in the first place, let alone LOVED it. For starters, it's just the right length—255 pages ... with the perfect amount of information, but not TMI. The information/facts/data/stats are ALL fascinating, gripping, and mind-boggling. I was sitting on the proverbial edge of my seat reading this book, as if it was a thrille

    This is THE best nonfiction book I've read in a LONG time! I'm a person who's not very interested in things science/nature/technology, so it was rather a fluke that I even read it in the first place, let alone LOVED it. For starters, it's just the right length—255 pages ... with the perfect amount of information, but not TMI. The information/facts/data/stats are ALL fascinating, gripping, and mind-boggling. I was sitting on the proverbial edge of my seat reading this book, as if it was a thriller! Sand. SAND? A subject of consummate importance and deep source of delight? YES, seriously! There was never a dull moment to the very last grain. The WRITING flows, and there's even much good humor sprinkled throughout. I've gained a new and surprising understanding of the astonishing world of sand. If I sound hyberbolical in this review, so be it, because this book cannot be praised enough. And trust me when I say that you really, really NEED to KNOW about sand!!! OMG! Who knew? Not I.

  • Agnieszka Suliga

    Captivating, so many unknown facts presented! As a material scientist I've always known that sand is a fascinating material, but this book is so much more, it's just such a treat from an engineering/scientific/political and environmental point of view that it's definitely worth your time!

  • ⋟Kimari⋞

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  • David Dunlap

    Fascinating view of the various ways sand has been -- and continues to be -- a vital part of the development of civilization. The author lays out some of the important uses to which sand has been applied in our daily lives: in the making of concrete and asphalt for our buildings and roads, in the glass industry, in high-tech devices so many of us carry in our pockets, in land reclamation and beach nourishment. A more recent use for sand: fracking for natural gas and oil. Along the way, he produc

    Fascinating view of the various ways sand has been -- and continues to be -- a vital part of the development of civilization. The author lays out some of the important uses to which sand has been applied in our daily lives: in the making of concrete and asphalt for our buildings and roads, in the glass industry, in high-tech devices so many of us carry in our pockets, in land reclamation and beach nourishment. A more recent use for sand: fracking for natural gas and oil. Along the way, he produces a startling array of statistics and insights: in 1904, for example, there were merely 141 miles of paved roads (not including city streets); half of the world's population lives within 62 miles of a coastline. The author carefully points out the implications of these many aspects and interlocking relationships for the use of sand and indicates a coming shortage; the impacts on climate and life are underlined. He also points out the darker underbelly of the sand trade: poor or nonexistent regulations (especially in the light of little medical evidence for the possible health implications of those living near sand mines), black market trading in sand, etc. Then, too, there are the ironies: real estate developments along coastlines, especially in the United States, has altered tides and flow of sand into river basins, necessitating the importation of sand from other locations to replenish beaches. -- Quite engrossing, even staggering at times. In the interest of full disclosure: The book got off to a rather slow start for me (which is perhaps why I 'docked' it a star!), but I am glad I persevered to the end.

  • Dan

    Ah sand. Who would have thought it could be the subject of such an interesting book? The exploitation of sand as a resource has been going on for a very long time but about 75 years ago with the boom in construction and the world’s population growth oriented towards cities the needle started to shift towards the unsustainable. Specifically the growth and urbanization of China, with more than 100 cities of more than a million people, in twenty years has equaled the use of concrete in the previous

    Ah sand. Who would have thought it could be the subject of such an interesting book? The exploitation of sand as a resource has been going on for a very long time but about 75 years ago with the boom in construction and the world’s population growth oriented towards cities the needle started to shift towards the unsustainable. Specifically the growth and urbanization of China, with more than 100 cities of more than a million people, in twenty years has equaled the use of concrete in the previous hundred years in the United States, accelerating the problem.

    I don’t know if I’ll be thinking of this book much a year from now as many science books have very interesting material that goes in my good ear rattles around for a few weeks and then exits the other ear. But if we run out of the high grade sands in my lifetime without some scientifically feasible alternative to replace them, then I’ll most certainly recall this canary in the coal mine of a book.

    So back to the book, it is well researched and well written and intended for lay people on a topic that is partly distressing while being mostly fascinating.

    The book is broken down into eleven largely independent chapters. Each chapter corresponds to a different industry use for sand, why we are running out and the environmental effects on the earth of overconsumption.

    There are many different types of sand and many applications require very particular sand. The areas covered include cement as in highways, cement for urban construction, glass, integrated circuits, coastal beach replenishment, island building in Dubai and the south China Sea, destruction of ocean bottoms near coastal regions to mine for sand, destruction of river beds to mine for sand and so on. Much more nuanced than I would have guessed as there are many positives that all of the aforementioned industries have provided society. The book finishes with a warning on overconsumption.

    Probably the best 2018 science book that I’ve read as of September.

  • Rani

    Vince Beiser is a great writer and a brilliant researcher. I never expected that learning about sand could be so interesting.

    The book delves into the history of sand, how our civilization has come to rely on it, the negative ramifications of sand mining and how this finite natural resource is running out. It's frightening in some ways, but fascinating, and Beiser does a great job at laying it all out.

  • Gendou

    This book beings with a tale of murder. Specifically, the alleged murder of a police informant at the hands of a black market sand mafia in India. Yeah, black market sand is apparently a thing!

    The book describes all the many uses for sand e.g. roads and buildings (concrete), electronics (silicon wafers), glass (duh), fracking fluid, and even island building. The biggest value I got out of the book was this history of material science.

    It also talks about the downsides of sand mining e.g. toxic du

    This book beings with a tale of murder. Specifically, the alleged murder of a police informant at the hands of a black market sand mafia in India. Yeah, black market sand is apparently a thing!

    The book describes all the many uses for sand e.g. roads and buildings (concrete), electronics (silicon wafers), glass (duh), fracking fluid, and even island building. The biggest value I got out of the book was this history of material science.

    It also talks about the downsides of sand mining e.g. toxic dust (silicosis), habitat destruction, resource depletion, and, yes, the sand mafia. Some of these environmental arguments bordered on the woo-woo and seem to have been reprinted by the author with inadequate consideration for their validity. Overall I'd say Vince Beiser does a good job relaying the technical and scientific concepts. But he falls into the trap of false balance once or twice in this book.

  • Randall Wallace

    I read in an article the world is running out of sand because of unending concrete, glass and asphalt demand, so I read this book. Sand is made of loose grains a little larger than the width of a human hair. While some beaches have sand made of decomposed shells, 70% of sand is made of quartz. Quartz is a form of silica. Singapore, is the world’s largest sand importer. Sand theft is common; sand is even being stolen from the sea floor. Concrete is a mix of “about 75% aggregate, 15% water, and 10

    I read in an article the world is running out of sand because of unending concrete, glass and asphalt demand, so I read this book. Sand is made of loose grains a little larger than the width of a human hair. While some beaches have sand made of decomposed shells, 70% of sand is made of quartz. Quartz is a form of silica. Singapore, is the world’s largest sand importer. Sand theft is common; sand is even being stolen from the sea floor. Concrete is a mix of “about 75% aggregate, 15% water, and 10% cement, in which the cement binds to the aggregate”. The Romans were masters of concrete and when they stopped making it, no new concrete structures appeared “for more than a thousand years”. The best cement today is an old favorite, Portland Cement which constitutes 95% of the U.S. market. Concrete got reinforced with iron and steel because of concrete’s really poor tensile strength (doesn’t bend, but shatters). Asphalt got its start because horse manure and urine in the 1800’s got stuck in the joints of the brick and stone creating a health problem. Asphalt “didn’t soak up urine from the endless parade of horses that were the primary form of transport at the time.” Quick Quiz: What’s the difference between asphalt and concrete? It’s in the binding agent: “In concrete, its cement. In asphalt pavement, it’s bitumen.” Lewis Mumford sadly noted in the 50’s, the new highways “obliterate the towns they pass through.” Whole neighborhoods were bulldozed and/or “suddenly isolated”. “The average driver now puts 14,000 miles on his car each year – a 40 percent increase just since 1980.” Beiser does not mention the massive concrete/asphalt cost of building of Suburbia in the 50’s (counterproductively keeping people away from both their jobs and their food source). Quick Quiz #2: Why does clear glass look green from the side? Because iron is the most common impurity in sand.

    You need the finest purest sand if you are working in high tech to form the most complicated man-made objects, and that is called Iota 8. A ton of Iota 8 is $10,000 while construction sand is “a few dollars a ton.” Salacious Southern California beach fact: “topless men were still being arrested as late as 1929.” Sadly, desert sand won’t work at all for either concrete or land reclamation because “The grains are too rounded to lock together strongly.” This means with increasing desertification, we are creating sands we don’t need, while running out of the sand we need. Europe has 35 cities with over a million people. Amateurs! China has “more than 220 cities with over one million inhabitants.” That took a lot of sand. Type “ghost cities in China” on Google - If you watch the videos on Chinese Ghost Cities (like ABC News), you will be amazed such empty spaces exist. All made of sand…

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