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Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth
By Keith Veronese
It was in T.C. McCarthy's great science-fiction novel Germline that I was first introduced to the concept of rare metals -- basically the same class of elements as more well-known items like aluminum and titanium, but found in even tinier amounts in the natural world, and that up to our modern age had been virtually useless as a practical material -- and the coming military wars that will eventually be fought over their deposits mostly in central Asia, because of it turning out that such ultra-contemporary items as cellphones and tablet computers simply cannot be made without them. And now here's an entire nonfiction book on the subject, from the always reliable "science for the masses" publisher Prometheus, which walks us step by step through everything you might ever want to know about the subject -- from their original discoveries in the Victorian Age, to the actual science behind why they're so valuable in electronics, what this has to do with plutonium and nuclear reactions, why that relationship fueled a lot of these discoveries during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, and a lot more. Just a bit too technical at points, which would be my only complaint, mostly this is a fascinating and easy-to-follow guide to an obscure but hugely important subject, one that will be in the headlines every day once our grandchildren are adults; and for anyone who is curious about what makes the teeny-tiny devices of our modern world work as well as they do, this is well worth picking up.
Out of 10: 9.6