“Like many other natural resources, sand is finite. Like many other natural resources, it’s in trouble. And as with any other necessary commodity, the industries and governments that need it will do whatever it takes to get more.

But this is hardly new; Beiser’s brief history of sand seems designed to make you think about the difficult symbiosis of growth and consumption that creates modern convenience. The numbers can be stunning — as can the ways success came at the expense of sustainable practices in nature, and those whose jobs vanished in its wake. Take the bottle company that automated its glassblowing process in 1903, a tactic an industry magazine praised because it “eliminates all skill and labor” — and a tactic so efficient that in just a year, the demand for the silica sand used to make the glass jumped from 1.1 million to 4.4 million tons.

In Beiser’s hands, that human and natural cost of industry isn’t just an issue of labor or space. It’s a significant undercurrent to all his stories of industrial progress, and affects the modern day as much as any piece of technology.”

I reviewed The World in a Grain for NPR.org.