Saturday, December 10, 2011

Recommended Reading: Sand by Michael Welland



November was extremely sandy this year.  In the middle of the month events conspired to produce Sand Dune Week, celebrated by bloggers in a spontaneous carnival of sorts.   And a steady stream of interesting posts by Sandatlas, with glittering photos of jewel-like sand grains from around the world, has become a regular part of my blog reading.  Finally, I read Sand:  The never-ending story by Michael Welland, which I enthusiastically recommend (see About the Reviewer below).

Welland blogs at Through the Sandglass, where one learns that he is a professional geologist of some kind and that his knees “appropriately make the sound of crunching sand grains”.  The reasons for his extensive knowledge about sand are otherwise a mystery.  But knowledgeable he clearly is, and he takes the reader on a wide-ranging tour of sand and sand-related topics.  Rather than trying to summarize this diverse material, I present here a stratified random sampling of pages and topics (well ... stratified anyway).

1 -- How land was created from sand grains by a raven, seal and frog.
26 -- The role of sand in archeological dating.
51 -- Granular materials: wet sand and sculpture. 
76 -- Sand as a metaphor for uncountability, immeasurability.
91 -- Meanders and point bars, a very interesting section omitted by my sampling strategy.
101 -- The sand grain we have been following from its source in central New York state has reached the Valley and Ridge Province, and counterintuitively passes through water gaps in the resistant Mauch Chunk sandstone.
126 -- Beach ripples.
151 -- Thanks to wind, or the god Aeolus, desert sand moves -- and people spend a lot of time trying to keep it at bay.
176 -- Mummification.
201 -- The breakup of Pangea and the New Red Sandstone that resulted.
226 -- Famous artists added sand to paint for texture.
251 -- Artificial islands have been created from sand, including a mind-boggling project to create coastline (i.e. expensive real estate) in Dubai.
276 -- Sand dunes on Titan (largest of Saturn’s moons).
301 -- The author’s “addiction” to the desert, his journey in the footsteps of Ralph Bagnold, and his “desert things”, including 28-million-year-old Libyan desert glass (from which the scarab in Tutankhamun’s necklace was made).

My “synopsis” probably suggests a disjointed approach, but that is not the case.  This is an coherent, enjoyable and thought-provoking exploration of sand.

[This book has also been published as Sand:  A journey through science and the imagination.]

About the Reviewer  It's probably helpful to know something about a book reviewer’s reading preferences.  My reading is almost entirely non-fiction and heavily biased toward natural history.  I especially like to learn and think about things.  I am easily distracted when reading and won’t stick with a book unless it is engaging.

Tibetan Buddhist monks create a sand mandala, Auburn University.

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