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The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  71 reviews
The gripping story of the most important overlooked commodity in the world--sand--and the crucial role it plays in our lives.

After water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other--even more than oil. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every computer screen and silicon chip, is made from sand. From Egypt's pyramids to the Hubble
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published August 7th 2018 by Riverhead Books
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  345 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ah sand. Who would have thought it could be the subject of such an interesting book? The exploitation of sand as a resource has been going on for a very long time but about 75 years ago with the boom in construction and the world’s population growth oriented towards cities the needle started to shift towards the unsustainable. Specifically the growth and urbanization of China, with more than 100 cities of more than a million people, in twenty years has equaled the use of concrete in the previous ...more
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As if there isn't enough to worry about with the over population of the world...just wait until you delve through this one which is a real eye-opener on just what humans (the most invasive species of all) are doing to our planet. Sand is the 3rd most used natural resource after water and air and is in everything you have around you from your phone, your shampoo, toothpaste, the foundation of your house, the road you drive on and the paint on your walls-to name just a few; and the world is using ...more
Karen Fierman
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is THE best nonfiction book I've read in a LONG time! I'm a person who's not very interested in things science/nature/technology, so it was rather a fluke that I even read it in the first place, let alone LOVED it. For starters, it's just the right length—255 pages ... with the perfect amount of information, but not TMI. The information/facts/data/stats are ALL fascinating, gripping, and mind-boggling. I was sitting on the proverbial edge of my seat reading this book, as if it was a thrille ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Sand after Air and Water is the item consumed by civilization in the greatest quantities. Its uses include concrete, glass, silicon chips, island building, water purification, etc. It is ubiquitous. Fortunes have been made extracting this resource, however, this is a mining industry and causes environmental harm and the profits to be made can attract criminals and cause geopolitical conflict. Like most other commodities. Also surprisingly it is a limited resource that could see shortfalls in th ...more
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I never even heard of sand pirates much less imagined it was a thing.

But apparently it is. Sand is one of the most utilized substances in the world and this book goes into some of the more extensive uses humanity has for sand -
Construction - concrete for buildings; bridges; dams; homes; roads since sand is not only in concrete but asphalt.
Glass - windows for buildings and vehicles; bottles; screens for laptops, televisions and cellphones; fiberglass kayaks, fiber-optic cables; camera lenses.
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Maybe I shouldn't have read this, because there goes my last bit of optimism :D

This is the scariest book I have ever read. It's not like with fossil fuels where I know we have alternatives that we can make work. Also, Rail Baltic, coming to a sandmine near you.

The book itself has lots of examples and deep-dives into the different areas of sand use. It was pretty easy and gripping.

I now have sand anxiety.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent book! Reads easily and is full of so much information more people need to know. Being in technology I really never did take a step back and realize how important and fundamental sand is to our everyday existence. The extent it is used in nearly every aspect of our lives is fascinating. Vince explains the facts well and having done a lot of investigative reporting himself the personal experience really added to my enjoyment of this book. Highly recommend.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Wow, The World in a Grain is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time. Excellent. From the very first page, I was hooked, and at 255 pages, it was just the right length -- the book did not drag on and get bogged down with long rambles or unnecessary detail; every word was fascinating and added to the book. I look forward to reading more by Vince Beiser.

Before reading this book, I didn't give much thought to sand, and this book really opened up my eyes. Sand is so important and
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Vince Beiser is a great writer and a brilliant researcher. I never expected that learning about sand could be so interesting.

The book delves into the history of sand, how our civilization has come to rely on it, the negative ramifications of sand mining and how this finite natural resource is running out. It's frightening in some ways, but fascinating, and Beiser does a great job at laying it all out.
Agnieszka Suliga
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Captivating, so many unknown facts presented! As a material scientist I've always known that sand is a fascinating material, but this book is so much more, it's just such a treat from an engineering/scientific/political and environmental point of view that it's definitely worth your time!
David Quinn
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read any reviews but I suspect most will boil down to the same point - Who knew sand was so prominent in our lives? Having read and enjoyed the book I'm now seeing sand everywhere I look.

The book grew out of a magazine article and it's hard not to notice. It mostly works as a unified piece but some stories and histories were slightly long and tangential for my taste. At his best the author guides the reader through the characteristics and uses of sand by way of science, stories and st
Tim Robinson
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: architecture
An important and informative book, and just the kind of book I usually like. But there is something nasty about the story and something indefinably wrong with the writing style. I was disappointed without really understanding why.
Randall Wallace
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read in an article the world is running out of sand because of unending concrete, glass and asphalt demand, so I read this book. Sand is made of loose grains a little larger than the width of a human hair. While some beaches have sand made of decomposed shells, 70% of sand is made of quartz. Quartz is a form of silica. Singapore, is the world’s largest sand importer. Sand theft is common; sand is even being stolen from the sea floor. Concrete is a mix of “about 75% aggregate, 15% water, and 10 ...more
Michael Green
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Though the supply might seem endless, usable sand is a finite resource like any other. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.)5 We use more of this natural resource than of any other except air and water. Humans are estimated to consume nearly 50 billion tons of sand and gravel every year.6 That’s enough to blanket the entire state of California. It’s also twice as much as we were using just a de ...more
David Dunlap
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating view of the various ways sand has been -- and continues to be -- a vital part of the development of civilization. The author lays out some of the important uses to which sand has been applied in our daily lives: in the making of concrete and asphalt for our buildings and roads, in the glass industry, in high-tech devices so many of us carry in our pockets, in land reclamation and beach nourishment. A more recent use for sand: fracking for natural gas and oil. Along the way, he produc ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting point of view and some interesting information about sand. Much of the focus is on concrete sand because this is the number one use of sand in the world. Beiser did good research and seems to have hit many of the major issues surrounding sand, sand mining, and the world's sand reserve. At times this was balanced, but other times he seemed hyperbolic, particularly the last chapter which I think should have been scrapped and rewritten (he is contradictory, where he'll warn that ...more
Sheri S.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Sand, sand, sand...there's a lot of it, but apparently not enough! The world's sand supply is being used at such a great rate that people are literally dying as they seek to protect it. I learned A LOT about sand from reading this book, i.e. that there are different kinds of sand, it is used in all kinds of technological devices, beach sand it being stolen and alternatives to sand must be found. The importation of sand is being used to increase different countries coastlines and China is using s ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who knew? That phrase was included in two of the jacket quotes and it sums up my thoughts as well. This book is both fascinating and at times disturbing. I had never really thought about all the ways sand is literally the foundation of modern life from the roads we drive on, the buildings we live in, the glass we look through, the screens and processors that run our devices and even more. Every chapter had eye opening information and led to questions about our world and how we use all of our res ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This book provides an interesting overview of how sand transformed civilization. This book consists of various mostly self-contained chapters that deals with a specific aspects and uses of sand: from sand mining (legal and illegal); concrete and cement development; the construction of roads, skyscrapers, artificial islands, land reclamation, glass bottles and lense developmet. I found this book to be interesting with many fascinating nuggets of information (e.g. why desert sand is not good for c ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like most Americans, I had no idea how thoroughly modern civilization depends on this humble substance, or that we're using the stuff up at an unsustainable rate—until I read this lively, entertaining, and superbly-reported book. Yes, Beiser is asking us to swallow yet another inconvenient truth about our pillaging of the planet. But he sweetens the medicine with vivid characters, fascinating scenes (from the illicit sand mines of India to the concrete "ghost cities" of China to the doomed beach ...more
Phil JP
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
We have lots of sand on earth, but only a fraction of it is usable for human purpose. i.e: limited resource.

This book is very interesting and dives into a subject not many people stop and think about: Sand.
Sand is present everywhere and is in our modern lives in more ways than you think. We learn about its history, uses, and effect on society on macro and personal level (the good and the bad).

Listened to the audiobook and had no complaints with it. Well researched, well written for the lay perso
Mar 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Within the first chapter, I was telling a friend, "The sand-book is startlingly heavy!"

It doesn't really get more cheerful. I learned some interesting tidbits, but I'd only recommend this one if you're ready to spend a lot of time thinking about how externalized costs create horrendous outcomes.

It could have also used a firmer editorial hand. There's a sand-as-army metaphor threaded throughout the book which doesn't really add anything, and I lost track of how many times the author used the word
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An eye-opening and fascinating book. Well worth the read. One of those books that makes you think differently about our world. It’s a portrait of our dependence on sand to build and operate most facets of our life, and it goes into detail on how sand is used to manufacture concrete, glass, silicone chips, artificial beaches, city expansions, and countless other minute things in our daily lives. It has a strong bias against the environmental effects of sand mining, many of which I had zero clue a ...more
Betsy Mills
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sand just got a lot more interesting. Who knew that sand was such a highly coveted commodity and that in many places around the world gangs of sand thieves wreak havoc on the environment and society? The rise of cities, driving culture, and our love of electronic devices is driving the demand for sand, and the pace of the demand just keeps accelerating even as supplies are diminishing. One day we will run out of usable sand - what will we do then? Convincing evidence that we need to do a better ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Amazing subject matter with wonderfully done parts. But he lost me by spending a chapter on ridiculous islands being built off Dubai. Giving them so much time on them seemed to validate them as an engineering feat, compounded by the stories of the rich who bought into it
The crazy mafia like business of sand though was amazing and terrifying as was the realistic view of yet another way humanity is doomed.
There are too many people (of which I concede I am one).
Harini Dedhia
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great primer to get us started on thinking about the commodity we all take for granted- sand. Right from the critical use of the commodity to the development of various sand mafia groups across the globe, the book does a great job in highlighting the dangers of running out of sand. There were a few areas where the narrative seems to go off-track but nonetheless this book warrants a read for highlighting the audacious consumption of sand taking place in the modern world.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. I learned a lot about the history and economics of glass, concrete, fracking, beaches, and man made land throughout this book. However, I am now completely stressed about sand mining- it’s environmental impact and dwindling reserves of the “right” type of sand.

I’ve got to go back to fiction now. With the climate change reports, this book, the Supreme Court, and family separation, I need an escape from reality🙄.
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I borrowed this book from a coworker who generally doesn't read but highly recommended it.

I was amazed at how much I learned about sand and it's impact on human history. From eyeglasses to paved roads to artificial islands, sand has been shaping our lives in ways that I never would have imagined.

The book also presents a bleak picture going forward unless alternatives can be found for sand in building materials.
Marc Udoff
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was really surprising how sand effects everything today (silicon, concrete, beaches/coastal health, mining, oil, glass...) and the tradeoffs/problems of continuing to grow its usage like we do. Overall, this was an easy read on interesting single subject. I'd recommend it to anyone even a little interested in it.
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Vince Beiser is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles. His first book, The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization was released on August 7, 2018. Wired magazine editor-in-chief Nick Thompson calls it “a riveting, wonderfully written investigation.” Senator John McCain recently called Vince’s coverage of the issue “a must-read.”

Vince has reported from ov
“Concrete is an invention as transformative as fire or electricity. It has changed where and how billions of people live, work, and move around. Concrete is the skeleton of the modern world, the scaffold on which so much else is built. It gives us the power to dam enormous rivers, erect buildings of Olympian height, and travel to all but the remotest corners of the world with an ease that would astonish our ancestors. Measured by the number of lives it touches, concrete is easily the most important man-made material ever invented.” 1 likes
“sand is the main material that modern cities are made of. It is to cities what flour is to bread, what cells are to our bodies:” 0 likes
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