The Bottom Line
- A refreshing non-textbook entree to geology
- An inexhaustible source of cool trivia
- A clinic in nonfiction writing that is not dry
- Excellent illustrations and color photographs
- Requires sustained attention for best results
- Small print and lapidary prose challenge late-night readers
- Examination of sand and related topics from all angles
- Excursions into Earth science, history, biography and technology
- Liberally seasoned with lore, trivia and literary asides
Guide Review - Sand: The Never-Ending Story by Michael Welland
Sand has a central role in geology, of course; it occurs loose on the ground, locked in bedrock, even lying in dunes on other planets. Geologists know that a grain of sand has a thousand lives and is truly a never-ending story, analogous to an atom in chemistry. But to most people sand is something else. It's the stuff of beaches and deserts, a medium of play, a raw material for a thousand purposes. In Sand, Welland has looked closely at all of this and organized an expertly guided tour for inquisitive adult readers.
Any comprehensive book about sand is a collection of facts, factlets, narrative and pictures that is rather like geology itself: always leading toward other subjects and specialties. A geologist is challenged to grasp this sprawling topic in geology alone, but sand drifts into extremities beyond Earth science itself. For instance, sand, or to be more precise granular material, is a distinct state of matter between solid and liquid that is a lively but obscure research topic in basic physics. Sand is also a fundamental material in technology, a commonplace in daily life and a rich source of metaphor and simile in literature.
Fortunately Welland is a researcher of unflagging curiosity and a writer of great organizing skill. He bridges the sciences and humanities with ease. When discussing the sands of the desert, for instance, he takes time to quote Herodotus and Balzac before he launches into the geography. Elsewhere he brings to life the insights of the Earth artist as well as those of the sedimentologist. He delves into manufacturing, where sand is involved with everything from toothpaste to concrete. He even throws in an A-to-Z chapter on "Sand in Our Lives" as an encyclopedic gesture.
Sand the book starts by defining sand the substance: it's purely, and merely, a matter of size. But by the book's end Welland has touched seemingly all of history, Earth and space. This is a rare achievement that guarantees the pleasure of learning with every rereading.