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The World in a Grain

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The World in a Grain

The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization


15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The sand that slips so easily through your fingers is the substrate of just about everything in modern life.

Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Analytical
  • Engaging


Sand is the groundwork for virtually everything in modern life. The buildings you live and work in and the roads you drive on are made of sand. Sand enables modern life, but it’s starting to run out, and its mining and use destroy the environment. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser illuminates what sand makes possible, why sand grips the human imagination, and offers insights into the political and environmental issues surrounding sand.


Sand is the most significant material in the world.

You may think sand is the most ordinary substance, useful for recreational spots like beaches, but in fact it’s necessary for the greater part of the world most people live in today. If you consider how you live and work on an average day, much of what you do relies on sand. The buildings you live and work in, for example, contain vast amounts of concrete, of which sand is a foundational material. Sand is a crucial material in the windows you gaze out of in your office or living room. They are glass, which is made of sand, as are the roads and sidewalks you drive and walk on, and the shopping malls you visit. The chips that make your smartphone, iPad and laptop intelligent and useful require sand.

Sand makes 21st-century life possible. But sand has become scarce, and people pursue it fiercely. Earth’s population keeps growing, and people need more and more sand to live and work, especially in today’s digital, globalized economy.

The invention of concrete – which sand and gravel comprise – transformed the way people live.

The invention of concrete fundamentally changed human life as much as fire and electricity...

About the Author

Vince Beiser is an award-winning journalist.

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    A. H. 12 months ago
    Great abstract, but the AI generated voice ruined it ��
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      12 months ago
      Hello Angelica,
      Thank you for your comment. We apologize for any inconvenience.
      We use professional voice artists to provide our audio content for all new titles. We have also updated some of our popular and older titles to professional audio recordings.
      However, to provide audio versions for some of our older titles, we have used machines to generate the audio.
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    G. P. 2 years ago
    A nice abstract. But what is the alternative? What's the solution? What do we want our future to look like?
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    J. S. 3 years ago
    The abstract did an excellent job of presenting a potentially life changing problem, but offered no solution, or even a suggestion about where one might begin to look for a solution. I rate the abstract 7.5 out of 10 stars.