Material world


Sand, iron, salt, oil, copper and lithium. The struggle for these tiny, magical materials has razed empires, demolished civilisations, fed our greed and our ingenuity for thousands of years. But the story is not over. We are often told we now live in a weightless world of information but in fact we dug more stuff out of the earth in 2017 than in all of human history before 1950. And it’s getting worse. To make one bar of gold, we now have to dig 5,000 tons of earth. For every tonne of fossil fuels, we extract six tonnes of other materials – from sand to stone to wood to metal. Even as we pare back our consumption of fossil fuels we have redoubled our consumption of everything else. Why? Because these ingredients build everything. They power our computers and phones, build our homes and offices, print our books and packaging.

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SKU: 9780753559154 Category: Tags: , , Publisher/imprint : WH Allen
Page count : 304
Published on 15th June, 2023


‘A compelling narrative of the human story’ TIM MARSHALL, author of Prisoners of Geography

‘Lively, rich and exciting… full of surprises’ PETER FRANKOPAN, author of The Silk Roads

Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium. They built our world, and they will transform our future.

These are the six most crucial substances in human history. They took us from the Dark Ages to the present day. They power our computers and phones, build our homes and offices, and create life-saving medicines. But most of us take them completely for granted.

In Material World, Ed Conway travels the globe – from the sweltering depths of the deepest mine in Europe, to spotless silicon chip factories in Taiwan, to the eerie green pools where lithium originates – to uncover a secret world we rarely see. Revealing the true marvel of these substances, he follows the mind-boggling journeys, miraculous processes and little-known companies that turn the raw materials we all need into products of astonishing complexity.

As we wrestle with climate change, energy crises and the threat of new global conflict, Conway shows why these substances matter more than ever before, and how the hidden battle to control them will shape our geopolitical future. This is the story of civilisation – our ambitions and glory, innovations and appetites – from a new perspective: literally from the ground up.

Additional information

Weight 0.737 kg
Dimensions 24 × 16 × 4.2 cm