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Sand: The Never-Ending Story

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  72 ratings  ·  15 reviews
From individual grains to desert dunes, from the bottom of the sea to the landscapes of Mars, and from billions of years in the past to the future, this is the extraordinary story of one of nature's humblest, most powerful, and most ubiquitous materials. Told by a geologist with a novelist's sense of language and narrative, Sand examines the science—sand forensics, the phy ...more
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published January 15th 2009 by University of California Press (first published December 16th 2008)
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When I purchased this book, the incredulous cashier asked, "Is this really about sand?" It really is, and Michael Welland knows his sand. Although I have a background in geology, I learned an enormous amount about the geology of sand from this delightful book. Welland is, however, more than a geologist. He is quite a polymath and brings to the subject of sand fascinating insights from history, art, literature, commerce, industry, and a variety of other fields. When a geologist quotes Borges more ...more
Ryan Mishap
Not many people, I suppose, would get excited when presented with the title of this book, but I--geology nerd that I am becoming--sought it out quickly. It took some time for the library to get it in, but not nearly as long as the billions of years it takes a sand grain to cycle through its various incarnations....
Welland defines the subject, takes a look at sand as a metaphor in life and literature, and then hits the hard geology: rivers, sandstone, deserts, sea, and up through modern uses of
The human brain in general, and my brain in particular, is capable of the strangest things. Most of the time it seems to just keep the train on the tracks while maintaining the day-to-day routines. The danger, of course, is that the day-to-day routines can become ever deepening ruts.

And then, for no apparent reason, something happens to change that.

In my case, in this instance, it was sand in the works that changed things. More specifically, one day I found myself thinking about SAND - there sur
Clark Hays
Granular, in the best way

(Note: this review was shared on

This is a fantastic book that puts one of the most unassuming but ubiquitous members of the natural world, sand, under the microscope and in doing so, illustrates huge truths about our planet and ourselves. Written with deep scientific knowledge and an engaging, lyrical style, it's a profound read that touches upon almost every aspect of geology, from weathering to planet formation, from the formation of dunes and beaches to th
Jun 10, 2009 Maria rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants a better understanding of our world and how it works.
Shelves: nonfiction
Startling! That’s the word that comes immediately to mind when thinking of this book. I was startled into laughter three times before I reached page 13 and startled by snippets of information provided in the same 13 pages. With no real science background and my only flirtation with geology being Roadside Geology of Colorado, I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this highly entertaining and very readable book. I thought I knew something about sand since I grew up with a beach as ...more
Chris Scott
Bagnold’s Libyan Sands is one of the best books on desert exploration around, but I always consciously avoided taking on his better known Physics of Blown Sand, assuming it would be too hard going. So I hoped Michael Welland’s ‘Sand’ might have been an accessible compromise on the substance which any desert traveller inevitably finds fascinating.

Sadly, this was not that book. Yes the author knows his science (perhaps too much for civilians?) and has researched the ‘imagination’ side thoroughly.
Sand is defined by size, not by chemical composition. Most sand is made of quartz, but in some tropical areas the sand is derived, ultimately, from the shells of living creatures. Sand has odd, fluid-like characteristics that make for unusual physics. These physics are discussed in the section on sand dunes. Sand is geologically & commercially important; also a widespread art medium.
Annie Dillard and John McPhee had a British love-child (metaphorically). He shared their passions, but felt that natural history writing could use more brevity, clarity, wit. This is the result.

Never again will I look at or think of a mountain or a grain of sand in the same way. This book is so epic it fills me up to bursting. (Okay - I admit, there were some dry parts that were rough to get through - but the rest was great!) I swear, Vangelis played in my head as I read Chapter One in the silence of my living room.

This book is not only about size (literal and figurative), but also about time on many scales. It really brings home that we are living in the now. What sand grains have see
I seem to be in deep science mode in my reading recently, a tethering of poetry and science, "scientopic" if you will. Welland's exhaustively comprehensive book about sand is endlessly fascinating; everything you ever wanted to know as well as everything you never knew you wanted to know about sand: its physics, chemistry, evolution & biology, as well as its cultural, imaginal, & literary dimensions & multiple identities. Very well written, evocative and immensely engaging.
The first few chapters were absolutely fascinating, and very accessible. As he started getting more into geology nerdiness, I started understanding less. I appreciate4d it as I read it but I didn't retain anything. I would imagine this as required reading for any geology student, and even a student of the sciences could appreciate the breadth that sand covers on our Earth, in each study.
Although the material was fascinating, I found this a little hard to get through. Welland's advice to wade slowly but methodically through quicksand applies to his book on the subject, as well. He examines the subject from geological, cultural, and historical points of view, and even includes extraterrestrial sand. Absolutely amazing stuff--you really can see the universe in a grain of sand.
Lauren Albert
Beautifully written book that ranges, not only over the whole world, but over the whole universe. What does sand do? What CAN sand do? How and why does it do it? I was surprised by how interesting the book was.
An excellent tome, filled with detailed information (as all worthy books should be) about minute, widespread, yet typically-ignored aspects of Nature, that create & sustain a foundation for our human life.
Excellent and completely fascinating. Highly recommended!
I hope a new edition comes out with updated research on sand.
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Well, not so much a biography, as some thoughts.

As a geologist, I have been fortunate enough to see diverse and wonderful parts of our planet. Its workings and processes are a never-ending source of fascination, and demonstrate what is intoxicating about science - the provocative conspiracy between what we know and what we don't. All too often, science is presented as done and dusted, whereas the
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