Published:  12:33 AM, 09 September 2018

The World in a Grain of Sand

 The World in  a Grain of Sand The title of the book is 'The World in a Grain', the writer is Vince Beiser, published by Riverhead Books, published in August 7, 2018, total pages is 304 pages, price is $37

Stuart Derdeyn 

Vancouver-raised journalist Vince Beiser's latest book looks at the 'most overlooked commodity in the world - sand - and the vital role it plays in our lives.'

The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed CivilizationThe opening chapter of this book by Los Angeles-based, Vancouver-raiser freelance journalist Beiser is titled The Most Important Substance on Earth. By the end of his well-researched study of the "something most of us barely ever thing about and yet can't live without," you are inclined to agree.

Having covered everything from Middle Eastern politics to the war in Bosnia and visiting around 50 countries, Beiser didn't intend to write about sand. But he admits to always wanting to tell the stories that aren't being told.

"I read a lot of international press to seek odd things out online and that was how I came upon an article in some small environmental journal stating sand was the most-consumed natural resource on earth after air and water and we're running out of it," said Beiser.

"It's basically what the world is made of through history, literally, and we're running out of it so quickly that massive global environmental damage, hundreds of acts of violence and a looming crisis are happening. That's a story."

Beiser pitched the story to Wired and was off to India to write a piece on the Mumbai sand mafia and the assassination of civic organizer Paleram Chauhan following his attempts to stop them destroying community land with illegal sand mines. Beiser encountered the mob and wondered if he was going to write the story or become another actor in it.

From this opening incident to his careful analysis of everything from how key glass is for us to see what's right in front of us to worlds beyond and the multi-billion dollar business of beaches, the book traces the disappearance of industrial grade sand all over the world. It's a pretty bleak picture.

"How did this happen, how did we get this dependent on sand?" said Beiser. "The bulk of the book explains that, all the history and science that comes from concrete, sand, silicone, land. And, here's the funny thing, desert sand is totally useless for almost all commercial uses."

The best sand comes from river bottoms. Unfortunately, rivers have a lot of things living in them. When you dredge it all up, those things stop living. The resulting erosion and desertification is tragic and, in most cases, irreversible. The concluding chapters map out some of the options to move beyond sand, and Beiser lists off one ignored environmental regulation of black market sand delivery after another.

"I suppose the good news is that nature is always making more sand, it's just that it takes thousands of years to do that," he said. "Quartz sand is the most abundant substance on Earth and we're running out of it that says something pretty clear about our lifestyle. 

It's not a new argument, but when you consider this is something we never think of that is this plentiful running out, it's alarming."As the author notes in the closing paragraphs of the book: "The sands of time are running out."


The writer is an arts columnist

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