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Material World

The Six Raw Materials That Shape Modern Civilization

Author Ed Conway
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THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE • AN ECONOMIST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil, and lithium. These fundamental materials have created empires, razed civilizations, and fed our ingenuity and greed for thousands of years. Without them, our modern world would not exist, and the battle to control them will determine our future. • Finalist for the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award

The fiber-optic cables that weave the World Wide Web, the copper veins of our electric grids, the silicon chips and lithium batteries that power our phones and cars: though it can feel like we now live in a weightless world of information—what Ed Conway calls “the ethereal world”—our twenty-first-century lives are still very much rooted in the material.

In fact, we dug more stuff out of the earth in 2017 than in all of human history before 1950. For every ton of fossil fuels, we extract six tons of other materials, from sand to stone to wood to metal. And in Material World, Conway embarks on an epic journey across continents, cultures, and epochs to reveal the underpinnings of modern life on Earth—traveling 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.

Material World is a celebration of the humans and the human networks, the miraculous processes and the little-known companies, that combine to turn raw materials into things of wonder. This is the story of human civilization from an entirely new perspective: the ground up.
  • LONGLIST | 2023
    Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award
© Sky News
ED CONWAY is economics and data editor of Sky News and a columnist for the Times (London). He has won numerous awards for his journalism, including most recently the 2018 Wincott Foundation Journalist of the Year Award. He lives in London. View titles by Ed Conway

About

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE • AN ECONOMIST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil, and lithium. These fundamental materials have created empires, razed civilizations, and fed our ingenuity and greed for thousands of years. Without them, our modern world would not exist, and the battle to control them will determine our future. • Finalist for the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award

The fiber-optic cables that weave the World Wide Web, the copper veins of our electric grids, the silicon chips and lithium batteries that power our phones and cars: though it can feel like we now live in a weightless world of information—what Ed Conway calls “the ethereal world”—our twenty-first-century lives are still very much rooted in the material.

In fact, we dug more stuff out of the earth in 2017 than in all of human history before 1950. For every ton of fossil fuels, we extract six tons of other materials, from sand to stone to wood to metal. And in Material World, Conway embarks on an epic journey across continents, cultures, and epochs to reveal the underpinnings of modern life on Earth—traveling 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.

Material World is a celebration of the humans and the human networks, the miraculous processes and the little-known companies, that combine to turn raw materials into things of wonder. This is the story of human civilization from an entirely new perspective: the ground up.

Awards

  • LONGLIST | 2023
    Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award

Author

© Sky News
ED CONWAY is economics and data editor of Sky News and a columnist for the Times (London). He has won numerous awards for his journalism, including most recently the 2018 Wincott Foundation Journalist of the Year Award. He lives in London. View titles by Ed Conway

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FROM THE PAGE: An excerpt from Ed Conway’s Material World

Material World is a celebration of the humans and human networks, the miraculous processes and little-known companies, that combine to turn  raw materials into things of wonder. This is the story of human civilization from an entirely new perspective: from the ground up.   1 Homo Faber This story begins with a bang. An explosion

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