cover image 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

Vince Beiser. Riverhead, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-57642-3

What does sand—the humble stuff of beaches and dunes—have to do with the making of the contemporary world? Quite a lot, actually, says journalist Beiser. He argues that sand, with its extraordinary range of properties, including durability and pliancy, is “the most important solid substance on earth... that makes modern life possible.” Sand is the key ingredient in concrete buildings and highways; in the form of glass, it is “the thing that lets us see everything” through windows, microscope lenses, eyeglasses, and smartphone screens. But due to the explosion in its uses and the increasing number and size of cities, sand is running out: the book is at its urgent best in chapters on the black market in sand and the sand mafias that brutally exercise control over resources in places like Raipur Khadar, a farming village south of New Delhi, whose ecosystem has been plundered by the demand for sand. The flip side of the story of modern life is, of course, the story of ecological devastation: Beiser moves from the denuded beaches of St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, to the replanted deserts of Inner Mongolia, showing the true cost of the “sand wars.” Breezily written and with insights on every page, this is an eye-opening look at a resource too often taken for granted. [em]Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Aug.) [/em]