In addition to explaining the chemistry behind rare earth metals, "Rare" delves into the economic and geopolitical issues surrounding these "conflict minerals," blending tales of financial and political struggles with glimpses into the human lives that are shattered by the race to secure them. In the past decade, the Congo has been ravaged by tribal wars fought to obtain control of tantalum, tungsten, and tin supplies in the region, with over five million people dying at the crossroads of supply and demand. A burgeoning black market in China, Africa, and India is propped up by school-age children retrieving and purifying these metals while risking their lives and health in the process. Fears of future political struggles inside China, the world's largest supplier of these metals, have already sent the United States, Great Britain, and Japan racing to find alternative sources.
Will scientists be able to create lab substitutes for some or all of these metals? Will Afghanistan be the next big supplier of rare metals? What happens when the limited supply runs out? Whatever the answers, it is clear that our modern lifestyle, dependent on technology, is far from stable.
- ISBN-13: 9781616149727
- ISBN-10: 1616149728
- Publisher: Prometheus Books
- Publish Date: January 2015
- Page Count: 270
- Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-10-27
- Reviewer: Staff
In this work of popular science, journalist Veronese (Plugged In: Comic Book Professionals Working in the Video Game Industry) delivers a scattershot account of the discovery and chemistry of metals, addressing their critical roles in technology and the cutthroat struggles over extraction, trade, and recycling. Despite the absence of an overarching theme, readers won’t be bored. Veronese focuses to some degree on the political and environmental challenges related to meeting global demand for the “rare earths”—17 metals with odd names (yttrium, terbium, dysprosium) essential for the production of high-tech electronics—repeatedly returning to this subject before wandering off on tangents. Topics of interest include thorium, which turns up as a clean source of nuclear power, and polonium, a poison used in political assassinations. A chapter discusses daredevil American hobbyists who extract precious metals from discarded electronics and addresses the massive Third World dumps where thousands make a miserable living doing the same. Veronese also discusses Afghanistan, whose vast untapped mineral resources hold the potential to ease its political problems. Though most of his subject minerals are obscure and relatively unknown even to educated readers, Veronese presents an informative and entertaining, if disorganized, overview of the metallurgy and politics of rare metals. Photo insert. Agent: Laura Wood, FinePoint Literary Management. (Jan.)