Reference and Education

Adding 'The World in a Grain' to Our Microhistory Bookshelf


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

Published in August of 2018.

The other day I ran into a colleague crossing the Green. She asked me, as everyone asks me, what book I'm listening to.

I told her that I was listening to a book about sand. She said, "sand?".  I said yes. She spelled it out "S A N D."  I said yes.

And I told her that she should also read this book. That the book is extraordinary. That upon reading this book that she would never look at building or roads, concrete or glass, in the same way.

Have you given much thought to where glass on the device that you are looking at right now was made? Or the windows that provide you light? Or the floor that you are standing on?

All of these objects and most everything else is made up of sand.

We never think about sand. Or we only think about sand when we are at the beach.

Sand is perhaps the most abundant substance on earth. The material most other materials are made of. And it is running out.

Beiser takes us deep into the world of legal and illegal sand mining. He explores the sand origins of concrete, glass, and silicon – and then explains why these sources are rapidly becoming depleted.

Some of my favorite chapters were on sand reclamation projects. These include massive artificial islands in Dubai, as well as a growing number of airports in Asia built on artificial islands. The chapter on beach reclamation projects will even change how you think of beach vacations.

I'll never get enough of books like The World in a Grain. Books that help us understand the big world through small things. Nonfiction books on things like sugar and milk and paper.

I find the world too big to understand. History is too long. There is too much to know. Books that explain the world through a single thing help me make sense of things. I need to anchor on something small and solid so that I can connect events through time and space.

Way back in 2011 I tried to name these books as "micro-histories."  Apparently, Microhistory already has its own Goodreads category – one that I doubt that I originated.  There is even a Microhistory Wikipedia entry:

"Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research…"

If you are a devotee of big stories told through single things, then you will appreciate and enjoy The World in a Grain.

Are there any particular microhistory books that you want to recommend?

What are you reading?

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Monday, September 24, 2018
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