cover image Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives

Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives

Siddharth Kara. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-28430-3

In this tour-de-force exposé, Kara (Modern Slavery), a professor of human trafficking and modern slavery at Nottingham University, uncovers the abuse and suffering powering the digital revolution. Explaining that cobalt is “an essential component to almost every lithium-ion rechargeable battery made today,” and that the Katagana region in the Democratic Republic of Congo “holds more reserves of cobalt than the rest of the planet combined,” Kara describes young children and pregnant women mining the metal by hand for a dollar a day. Predatory middlemen then sell the cobalt to foreign- and state-owned mining operations, who supply the materials for Apple, Samsung, and Tesla products. The details are harrowing: young men and boys are crushed in tunnel collapses, women and girls work in radioactive wastewater, villages are razed, and 14-year-olds are shot for seeking better prices. While corrupt government officials siphon the profits from the cobalt industry, ordinary Congolese “eke out a base existence characterized by extreme poverty and immense suffering.” “Here,” says the widow of one artisanal miner, “it is better not to be born.” Throughout, Kara’s empathetic profiles and dogged reporting on the murkiness of the cobalt supply chain are buttressed by incisive history lessons on the 19th-century plunder of the Congo for ivory and rubber, the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba in 1960, and more. Readers will be outraged and empowered to call for change. (Jan.)