cover image Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth

Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth

Keith Veronese. Prometheus Books, $25 (280p) ISBN 978-1-61614-972-7

In this work of popular science, journalist Veronese (Plugged In: Comic Book Professionals Working in the Video Game Industry) delivers a scattershot account of the discovery and chemistry of metals, addressing their critical roles in technology and the cutthroat struggles over extraction, trade, and recycling. Despite the absence of an overarching theme, readers won’t be bored. Veronese focuses to some degree on the political and environmental challenges related to meeting global demand for the “rare earths”—17 metals with odd names (yttrium, terbium, dysprosium) essential for the production of high-tech electronics—repeatedly returning to this subject before wandering off on tangents. Topics of interest include thorium, which turns up as a clean source of nuclear power, and polonium, a poison used in political assassinations. A chapter discusses daredevil American hobbyists who extract precious metals from discarded electronics and addresses the massive Third World dumps where thousands make a miserable living doing the same. Veronese also discusses Afghanistan, whose vast untapped mineral resources hold the potential to ease its political problems. Though most of his subject minerals are obscure and relatively unknown even to educated readers, Veronese presents an informative and entertaining, if disorganized, overview of the metallurgy and politics of rare metals. Photo insert. [em]Agent: Laura Wood, FinePoint Literary Management. (Jan.) [/em]