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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,145 ratings  ·  208 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 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,145 ratings  ·  208 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
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.
Divya Shanmugam
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Took me a while (it is about sand) but by the end, I felt that I understood the built world and how it came to be a little better.

Some notes:
* Four types of sand: Construction, marine, silica, and desert. Desert sand is useless because it is too round!
* Cement and concrete are different - cement is an ingredient in concrete. Moreover, the difference between asphalt and concrete is their binding agent (bitumens vs. cement respectively).
* One reason NYC switched to asphalt is because it does not
Jul 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: microhistories
"Sand is about the most taken-for-granted natural resource in the world. Hardly anyone thinks about it—what it comes from or what we do to get it. But in a world of 7 billion people, more and more of whom want apartments to live in, offices to work in, malls to shop in, and cell phones to communicate with, we can't afford that luxury anymore. "

This was an interesting book about how sand is used. From concrete and to glass, to technology and beaches, I learned a lot about the many types and uses
David H.
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, 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 i
Beth Barnett
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book after hearing a fascinating interview with the author a couple of years ago.

The subject matter is interesting and Beiser’s writing was well organized and readable. He mixes researched information with first-hand interviews with people affected by or involved in industries that rely on sand.

The book covers the role of sand mining and dredging in our modern world of roads, concrete sidewalks, buildings and foundations, coastal land creation (for example, in Dubai), and beach
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
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. Mor ...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 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
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! ...more
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
The Inquisitive Biologist
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Without resorting to alarmism, The World in a Grain is a brutal reportage highlighting an incipient resource crisis that beggars belief: we are running out of sand?! See my full review at ...more
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. ...more
Mayan Botts
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-challenge
Who knew there was so much to know about sand?! I loved the writing style of Mr. Beiser, he was funny, interesting, and gave a lot of information about sand! There wasn't a lot of "fluff" added to fill pages and I learned so much. ...more
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
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?)
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've read a book about sand. ...more
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.
Hans Vermeeren
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a book: Who knew sand was this interesting!?
Clear written, different uses for sand, histories and anecdotes are we'll combined in this book.

!! Bad stuff: it's o-so American-oriented: most main stories are about the USA (as if they invented hot water), imperial measurements (how many cubic feet are in a cubic yard?), and other focuses.
But in the end it fascinated me too much to put it aside!
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most interesting books I've listened to. ...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
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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

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