• The World in a Grain

  • The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization
  • By: Vince Beiser
  • Narrated by: Will Damron
  • Length: 8 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: Money & Finance, Economics
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (241 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

A finalist for the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

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 telescope, from the world's tallest skyscraper to the sidewalk below it, from Chartres' stained-glass windows to your iPhone, sand shelters us, empowers us, engages us, and inspires us. It's the ingredient that makes possible our cities, our science, our lives - and our future.

And, incredibly, we're running out of it.

The World in a Grain is the compelling true story of the hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more essential every day, and of the people who mine it, sell it, build with it - and sometimes, even kill for it. It's also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand, which has received little public attention. Not all sand is created equal: Some of the easiest sand to get to is the least useful.

Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, taking listeners on a journey across the globe, from the United States to remote corners of India, China, and Dubai to explain why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, listeners encounter world-changing innovators, island-building entrepreneurs, desert fighters, and murderous sand pirates. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, rippling with fascinating detail and filled with surprising characters.

©2018 Vince Beiser (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“[An] impassioned and alarming report on sand.... In Beiser's artful telling, the planet is caught up in a vicious, sand-fueled cycle.” (Washington Post)

“Beiser peppers research with first-person interviews in an engaging and nuanced introduction to the ways sand has shaped the world.... stunning.” (NPR) 

“Beiser’s eye-opening study clarifies the science and the huge role of sand in heavy and high-tech industry. Perhaps most compelling is his exposé of sand mining, which obliterates islands, destroys coral reefs and marine biodiversity, and threatens livelihoods. A powerful lens on an under-reported environmental crisis.” (Nature

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What listeners say about The World in a Grain

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    3 out of 5 stars

A broad overview of sand and civilization

The book is more a compilation of stories and excerpts of the influence of sand, rather than a logical progresstion of the effects of sand on human civilization. However, it serves as a great overview of the utilization of sand in our society and the environmental harm that the many sand based industries inflict.

3 people found this helpful

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interesting and important

I really liked this audio book. Learned a lot about a subject I never really thought about before. I think we should add sand to the elementary school curriculum lesson on natural resources along with water, air, soil, and trees. The narrator was very good too.

2 people found this helpful

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​Sand Pirates

I have to agree with other reviewers that this is one of the best informational books that I've read. I'm read my fair share on water, dirt, dust and now sand. "The World in a Grain" is an awesome book on how we are depleting natural resources. Never knew that sand is so important to the construction industry and there are sand pirates out there as criminals.

2 people found this helpful

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Best book of 2018

The book covers the science, engineering, history and economics of sand. It is amazing how important sand is to the modern world.

2 people found this helpful

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Much more fascinating that I expected

I enjoyed Kurlansky's books Salt, and Cod, and The Big Oyster. Knowing that I thought that a book about sand had potential to engage me. It exceeded my expectations.

Who knew that sand - really useful sand - is actually a finite, even scarce, resource? Who knew that sand has created criminal enterprises and violence? Who knew that sand could be a question of national security?

My only criticism is that the book, in places, tended to drag. And I thought there were questions of strategy and security raised that I would have liked explored more deeply - especially around international ownership of important sand mines in the United States. If there is a case for nationalism, I would think it would start there.

Vince Beiser is no Mark Kurlansky, but this is a worthy read nonetheless.

1 person found this helpful

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awesome

awesome book I never knew that sand could be so fascinating and so much of it is being consumed on a global scale it was awesome read everybody that I came across I kept telling them all the things I was learning about saying and you will too

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Our world is just one big sandbox

Appears that we're still learning lessons and then we somehow missed playing in the Sandbox or at the beach.

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engaging

book is very informative and very well written. essential and its message is clear. we can't stop taking our resources for granted.

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This book angered me.

The reviews for this book are confusing. Seemingly the people who rated it low just maybe disagree politically. I agree with the politics of this book, humans are using too much of everything.

The initial history of sand was very interesting and too short. Suddenly the book was discussing in-depth usage of sand processes in various industries, which would have been fine if he had gone into as much detail for the alternatives that he sparingly discussed. Why go in-depth for some corporations and developers (who are clearly terrible), but not spend more time talking about alternatives?

I also had a hard time with the narrator, his voice bugged me.

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BAIT AND SWITCH

This book starts out as a historical narrative on the use of sand, but just an hour or so in turns into a political hack piece using text-book logical fallacies to argue points that defy reality. so bad it was funny until the F$#% bombs started dropping.

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  • C. Eriksson
  • 01-31-20

Fascinating, surprising and very significant

A truly fascinating read on something that is so small and almost hidden away, yet surrounds us and without which modern society could never exist. Vince Beiser truly lays out the details of the fundamental importance of sand to modern man, and Will Damron does a good, measured presentation of it. Together the author and narrator truly managed to take a--on the surface--mundane topic and turn it into something truly awe inspiring.

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  • Mike
  • 10-05-19

Starts Well

this book starts well and is quite interesting but becomes a little too strident and lecturing towards the end.

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  • ValaDrew
  • 07-19-19

Interesting Insight

A very interesting book which made me think about our impact on the planet and the need for sand in everything. Well worth listening to/reading.

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  • Paolo
  • 10-12-18

An eye opener on the most underrated commodity on earth

Vince Beiser does an amazing job in describing the multiple uses of sand in our daily lives. Filled with research results and many encounters with people involved in this crisis, this is a master piece that hopefully will help us to understand the crisis and do something about it. Worth reading 100%

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-14-20

Factual but little personality

I felt that the author was trying to convince me of sand place in our world in the same way a high school student would write a persuasive essay.
I did enjoy the stories of the author's personal experiences and wish there was more of this women throughout the book.

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  • Stuart Hodge
  • 02-12-19

Super interesting history of the most mundane

from mega rich Qatar to Indian slums, from mundane piles to Ultra pure silicon, this book presents a pretty convincing argument as to why the world is built on sand. while sometimes bogged in minutia, it's nevertheless really interesting.