cover image Sand: The Never-Ending Story

Sand: The Never-Ending Story

Michael Welland / Author University of California Press $40 (3

Though we rarely consider the implications of the sand we encounter daily (as wind-borne grit or the beach on which we walk), geologist Welland finds much that's relevant and fascinating in the ancient history and present role of sand. In precise and poetic prose, Welland ponders sand's strict definition (based on particle size) and multifarious composition (from quartz grains to calcareous microfossils) Before addressing the subject from every other angle, from the strange fluid mechanics of moving sand masses to the bizarre elegance of sand art. Unsurprisingly, sand's history encompasses much of geological, biological and human history: how mountains grow and crumble, how rivers move the earth, how minute creatures keep beaches clean, how desert winds shape dunes and the impact of sand migration on humanity. In a clever framing device, Welland follows a single particle of sand down the valley of the Susquehanna River and out into the depths of the sea, which keeps his far-flung investigation on track from elemental force to industrial-era necessity (Chapter 9, ""Servant of Our Lives,"" is an entertaining A-to-Z list of the ways sand and humans interact). Welland's work even manages to sift some romance from the subject, firmly cementing this fun-to-read text as a worthy science title for the masses.