The best non-fiction books can open up a captivating world existing right under your nose. The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser falls into this category.
I’ll get to the meat of the book but there’s a short passage explaining the title of this post I’d like to point out. Beiser is finishing up a tour put on by the backers of one of Dubai’s shoreline expansion projects. Riding on a yacht, no less. “Moët in flute glasses” is poured. (The *correct* vessel for Champagne.) Beiser then remarks, “Bowls of fruit, nuts, olives, and, inexplicably, Doritos were scattered around. (I munched on a few of the chips, because when would be the next time I’d have a chance to pair Doritos with champagne?)”
Little did Beiser know, he’d experienced one of Champagne’s great pairings, if not its greatest. Nothing beats crunchy, salty snacks and any high-quality sparkling wine. I got a little emotional reading Beiser wasn’t sure when the opportunity would again arise. It’s something that should be a weekly occurrence for all wine drinkers.
ANYWAY, onto the book.
The World in a Grain
Wow, who knew sand plays such a crucial role in the development of the world from the 20th century to today. Well, Beiser does. DUH.
Think about concrete, glass, and the silicon chip. (Shout-out to Grinnell College graduate Robert Noyce, pioneer behind the latter and founder of Intel.) Not just the invention of each, but the wild proliferation of this trio. Particularly in the last century-plus. (Ok, less for the computer chip.) None of this would have been possible without sand. And particular types of sand needing to be mined.
Which leads to the bummer of the book. Sand mining is destroying land and shoreline all over the world. Illegal extraction is causing people who object to this activity to be killed. Corruption in the industry runs rampant. And our zeal to build on the shoreline, to create waterfront property where it doesn’t exist or bulk up current eroding beaches, is having significant environmental and financial impacts. Oh, and there’s no fracking without sand. (Sorry to pile on.)
The World in a Grain is an endlessly fascinating history and also a dire cautionary tale. Highly recommended.
Shout-out to my local bookstore, WORD in Greenpoint. They have a table with new/notable paperbacks and I always pick whatever looks interesting from the assortment of displayed fiction and non-fiction. Like this book!