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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  806 ratings  ·  151 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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Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  806 ratings  ·  151 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 worlds 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 length255 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 ...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.
Peter (Pete) 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 ...more
David H.
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This really blew my mind on the importance of sand. It seems like one of those bottomless resources--we have whole deserts of sands, for crying out loud. But not only is it not bottomless, we don't even really use desert sand (not the right shape of grain). The majority of sand we use is for concrete (buildings and roads), with some fun forays into the high tech industry and glass and beaches and land-building.

One thing that threw me off a little bit when I started this book was that I thought
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
Jim Goodrich
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and horrifying book about a subject I never really though much about before. It turns out that not all sand is created equally, and the good stuff is being consumed at a crazy pace. Sand is big business and as it gets harder to legally procure people are being killed over this stuff. It's around us everywhere in roads, buildings and glass. It's being dredged from the ocean floor to make islands or extend existing ones and in the process destroying the local underwater habitats. ...more
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So utterly fascinating.

I love books like this which are endless rabbit holes delving into aspects of something you take for granted and expounding them into fully fledged analyses.

Really enjoyed how each chapter was a sort of miniature focus of its own. Inspired me to want to read into every different subject discussed independently.

The interludes were fun.
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.
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 worlds 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
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!
Nov 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5. The book was at very engaging and interesting in describing the history and many uses of sand. The author also does a great job of underscoring the alarming fact that we are literally running out of sand. Where the book falters is in its attempts to make cases against urbanization and in the solutions proposed for how to avert the crisis or adapt to the new circumstances
Elizabeth Gabhart
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an interesting look at how sand made modern life possible, transformed into glass, silicon, concrete, etc. It ends with warnings of coming environmental catastrophe of we don't change our extractive mentality toward sand and other natural resources.
Ethan Ward
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
a good history and investigative look into sand, but conclusion is lacking (research into other materials? change our society to rely less on pavement?)
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew sand could be so interesting? This is a fascinating book.
Suhail Khan
Sep 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Good book to understand the importance of sand, history of how it became such a crucial commodity. But like many other books, it is America focused
Tim Robinson
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: technology
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.
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most interesting books I've listened to.
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 doesnt 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 Thats enough to blanket the entire state of California. Its also twice as much as we were using just a decade ...more
Mal Warwick
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Who knew? We've been aware for a long time that humankind is running out of drinkable water and the rare earth elements essential to advanced communications technology. Overfishing is endangering fish populations. And arable land is also growing scarce. But sand? Really? Sand?

Our civilization is built on sand

Well, as journalist Vince Beiser tells us in his revealing study of the subject, The World in a Grain, it's not strictly true. There's far more sand in the world's deserts than we would ever
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mildly interesting, not significant

This book was just so-so. It contains some interesting facts and stories, but mostly they felt more like trivia, rather than the essential information about sand and its uses.
It also not only covers the historic/factual background, but also tries to shape the reader's opinion of these facts, not trusting readers to do it themselves. Appealing to emotions rather than reasoning in a few places did not leave a good impression as well.

In the end, this book is one
Andrew Hawkins
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy-to-read, well researched, and fascinating book about sand and all of the roles it plays in modern life, some obvious and others not so obvious. I found the story of Michael J. Owens, the inventor of earliest automatic glass bottle making machine to be a particularly interesting bit of history.

For all of the important uses of sand, far and away the largest one is concrete. Concrete is also the most environmentally deleterious use of sand, as mining tremendous quantities causes huge damage
Jason Brown (Toastx2)
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The World in a Grain: The story of sand and how it transformed civilization

Permanence is a matter of perspective.

As a squishy human that is merely a bag of meat and liquid, I view anything that is harder than my own body as permanent. I subconciously evaluate things around me and identify whether I could be killed or damaged by it landing on me, if it is impossible to move by hand, or is arguably a large dense rocklike element. These perspectives influence the scale and breadth with which I
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 ...more
Sand is surprisingly important. Now when I look at the city skyline I'm imagining where all that sand came from - I mean yes it's being stretched out with all those empty spaces which we occupy but those skyscrapers are made from sand that came from somewhere. Here in San Francisco that's the Livermore Valley, but every city is being built from sand coming from somewhere. So are all the highways, parking lots, cell phones, and parts of the city itself. I thought myself somewhat knowledgable ...more
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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 Vinces coverage of the issue a must-read.

Vince has reported from over

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