Eric Chaline

Apple Press

2013| 224pp | £12.99

ISBN: 9781845435073

When I first picked up this book, I expected it just to be about gemstones and pretty rocks. However, as the blurb suggests, Fifty minerals that changed the course of history uses the term ‘mineral’ in its loosest sense and includes a huge range of man-made as well as natural materials. While it does have those entries about quartz, diamond, jade and coral, it also includes ‘materials’ such as petroleum and asphalt, as well as a variety of metals, including gold, mercury, uranium and steel. 

This isn’t a book about the chemistry of these minerals (although it does go as far as including their chemical formulae), but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There is a separate entry for each material, and they are all listed alphabetically (by Latin or Greek name). 

Each of the 50 selections describes the history of the material and its impact on civilisation, as well as including a variety of interesting anecdotes. 

The book is well written, in a style that is easy to read and understand, and the entries range from two to eight pages in length, which makes it easy to dip in and out. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs, pictures and diagrams, and some of the additional snippets of information are included in separate boxes, which adds variety to the layout of the pages.

Fifty minerals that changed the course of history is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will be appreciated by a variety of audiences.

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