A successful if disturbing argument that there is more to sand than meets the eye.

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THE WORLD IN A GRAIN

THE STORY OF SAND AND HOW IT TRANSFORMED CIVILIZATION

A fresh history of “the most important solid substance on Earth, the literal foundation of modern civilization.”

Books on a single, familiar topic (salt, cod, etc.) have an eager audience, and readers will find this an entirely satisfying addition to the genre. In his first book, journalist Beiser, whose work has appeared in WiredMother Jones, and elsewhere, has done his homework, and he delivers often surprising information about sand’s role from low tech to high (construction, glass, electronics) without neglecting the painful consequences of its skyrocketing production over the past century, which has made it a source of serious environmental damage. Next to air and water, humans use more sand (largely silica, silicon dioxide) than any material, mostly to make concrete for buildings and roads. Desert sand isn’t suitable, writes the author, so “riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare of their precious grains. Farmlands and forests are being torn up. And people are being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. All over sand.” Of course, it takes sand to make glass, which was not cheap until after 1900, when machines put an army of glassmakers out of work, and bottles and picture windows became routine consumer products. Far less—but far more purified—sand becomes silicon chips and similar high-tech essentials. Beiser devotes the second half of the book to the process of moving sand from place to place. The iconic beaches we take for granted are often artificial creations, eroding steadily, supporting a massive, multibillion-dollar, government-subsidized industry to truck in sand. An area the size of Connecticut has been reclaimed from the sea for airports, homes, or luxury resorts by vacuuming sand from the sea bottom or importing it, often illegally, from the beaches and land of poor countries.

A successful if disturbing argument that there is more to sand than meets the eye.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57642-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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