OWL Magazine Korea

“Vince Beiser’s ‘The World in a Grain'”

“We are all living in the sand.” This is the thought that comes to mind after reading this book. Normally, we don’t think much about “sand” in our daily lives. Or perhaps, it’s not easy to think about the seemingly trivial “sand” while caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern society. However, after reading this book, one might realize the significance of “sand” in our lives and its impact.

“Understanding, a book introduced by book columnist Nam Gung-min”

I first learned about this book through the YouTube channel “Understanding,” hosted by book columnist Nam Gung-min. His in-depth analysis and explanations of the book’s contents in a two-hour video were impressive. In fact, just watching the video provides a solid understanding of the key points covered in the book. One might argue that the video, with its rich explanations, conveys more information than reading the book itself. Fortunately, having already listened to Nam Gung-min’s insights, delving into the book was not as challenging.

“The World in a Grain”

The author, Vince Beiser, is a journalist who became intrigued by sand and decided to explore its various aspects, eventually presenting his findings in the book “The World in a Grain.”

While the original title is “The World in a Grain,” the Korean translation is “모래가 만든 세계” (“The World Made by Sand”). Eager to improve my English vocabulary and drawn by the opportunity to become more familiar with the language, I opted to read the original. Although it took much longer than reading the Korean translation and my comprehension was not as high, Nam Gung-min’s prior explanations helped me follow the book’s main points.

“Sand also has classes.”

The book’s central message revolves around the idea that sand, seemingly a simple substance, has various classifications. Desert sand, sand swept from riverbeds, beach sand, and sand from Silicon Valley all have distinct characteristics.

The author classifies sand into a hierarchy, drawing parallels with the military. Regular units represent lower-grade sand, while specialized forces performing unique roles correspond to higher-grade sand.

In reality, the sand commonly seen in deserts, considered relatively useless, holds the lowest position. Sand used in construction follows, then glass-making sand, and finally, “semiconductor sand” claims the top tier. Silicon Valley, a region known for semiconductor production, is aptly named as it used to be abundant in sand suitable for making semiconductors.

“Sand in the construction of buildings and daily life.”

One intriguing point the author makes is that sand is essential in our lives. We eat, sleep, and live in buildings made from sand. We use utensils made of glass, another sand-derived product, in our daily lives. Additionally, our current reliance on smartphones and computers, containing semiconductors made from sand, further emphasizes the crucial role sand plays in our lives.

“Is desert sand useless?”

Surprisingly, even in regions where desert sand is abundant, countries often import sand for construction. The reason lies in the classification of sand. Sand for construction is preferred to be sourced from riverbeds, and using beach sand as an alternative requires additional steps to remove salt, incurring extra costs.

Desert sand is unsuitable for construction because the particles are too rounded. Concrete, which is made by mixing sand and cement, requires sand particles with angular shapes for a strong bond. Desert sand, worn smooth over time, lacks these angular particles.

“Sand for semiconductor production.”

The author delves into the interesting fact that sand for making glass and sand for semiconductor production are distinct. Common sand cannot be used to make glass or semiconductors. This “sand hierarchy” adds complexity to the story.

While the book doesn’t mention this, there were suggestions during the Lee Myung-bak administration in South Korea that the sand dredged from riverbeds during the controversial Four Major Rivers Project could be exported to cover construction costs. Although the book doesn’t cover this specific aspect, the logic presented aligns with the arguments made during that period.

“Sand companies in the United States: Vulcan Materials (VMC).”

Although not discussed in the book, there’s an interesting connection to companies dealing with construction materials in the United States, such as Vulcan Materials (VMC). This company primarily deals with construction-related raw materials, including aggregates, concrete, and asphalt.

Vulcan Materials classifies and supplies sand for construction purposes and also supplies semiconductor-grade sand to IT companies. Notably, the company has seen a similar stock price trend to that of NVIDIA, a semiconductor company, during specific periods. While Vulcan Materials’ stock increase is not as dramatic, the parallel movement is noteworthy.

As of now, Vulcan Materials can be found on the U.S. stock exchange under the ticker symbol “VMC.” Personally, after reading this book, I have made some investments, not achieving significant profits but avoiding losses while steadily making additional purchases.

The company deals with construction materials, providing stability, while also supplying raw materials for the semiconductor industry, adding investment value.

“There is no place where sand is not used in our lives.”

Ultimately, what the author wants to convey in this book is that there is no place in our lives where sand is not used. We live in buildings made of sand, eat and sleep surrounded by it. The dishes we use, made of glass, and the smartphones and computers we use daily, containing semiconductors, all highlight the integral role sand plays in our lives.

Before encountering a book discussing sand, we likely never thought much about it in our daily lives. The author aims to shed light on how this seemingly mundane substance significantly impacts our lives.

Through the serendipitous discovery of the book “The World in a Grain,” I learned much more about sand and gained a new perspective on it. If you haven’t explored this book yet, I highly recommend giving it a read. Alternatively, if reading is challenging, watching Nam Gung-min’s YouTube video introducing the book could be a good option.

“The World in a Grain”

  • Author: Vince Beiser
  • Publication Date: October 17, 2019
  • ISBN13: 9788972916970
  • Yes24: Link