Book Review: Rare

Rare:  The High-Stakes Race To Satisfy Our Need For The Scarcest Metals On Earth, by Keith Veronese

Admittedly, I would not consider myself to be as knowledgeable about the state of conflict metals or the current Chinese domination of the global trade in rare earth metals as I probably should be, but this book certainly provides plenty of insight about those subjects.  It so happens that rare earth metals are in some particularly interesting areas for some interesting reasons, and while there is a lot of speculation that exists about why this is the case, the fact that Greenland, Congo, and China (as well as the United States) are places where a lot of rare earth metals happen to be has a great deal of significance in the world, as it provides some play for geopolitics in how these resources are traded and developed.  It is clear that the author has spent a great deal of time reflecting on how materials are mined and the way they are put to use and how it is that scarcity and value and industrial use are all interrelated in strange ways.  If you have an interest in these matters then you will likely find much to appreciate in this book as well.

This particular book is a bit more than 200 pages and is divided into sixteen chapters.  The author begins by looking at the history between man and metal, going back a long time (1) before then looking at what makes rare earth metals rare (2).  This leads to a discussion about the way that China played the long game in order to ensure a dominance in the contemporary market for these metals (3) while also taking a look at what can be found in a single rock that makes rare earth metals such a fuel for conflict in Congo (4).  After that the author looks at the importance of the rare earth metals in the Cold War (5) as well as the way that some of them are created in nuclear reactors (6) in the process of controlled fission.  After that the author discusses the way that gold can be counterfeited (7) in clever ways and how some rare metals have been used to kill people in extremely unpleasant ways (8).  There is a discussion about the relationship between golf clubs, iphones, and tribal wars (9) as well as a look at the question of the concentration of these metals and what causes it (10).  The question of dirty recycling in poorer countries is the subject the author discusses next (11) and then the author discusses the way that rare earth metals could provide prosperity for Afghanistan if they were properly handled (12).  The author discusses platinum and its importance to the contemporary world (13) and then discusses what the next precious metals are likely to be (14).  Finally, the author discusses what happens when rare earth metals become too rare for contemporary industrial use (15) and how to make such matters more sustainable for the future (16), after which there is an epilogue, acknowledgements, and notes.

Rare earth metals are certainly quite rare, but for some reasons they are concentrated in certain areas of the globe.  The author notes that these metals are largely nondescript and obscure but that they have some important uses that became important when they were found in large enough quantities to be commercially viable.  Unfortunately, that commercial viability depends on China at present, and it would take years or some dramatic efforts for other areas to ramp up their supply of the metals in commercially useful form, since ores have to be mined and then refined.  At any rate, this author has a wide knowledge of where rare earth metals come from, how they are used, and what trade and conflicts result from their existence in certain parts of the world.  This sort of knowledge is, no pun intended, quite rare, and it is the sort of knowledge that people who want to understand at least part of the danger of contemporary geopolitics and the dangerous items that are required for our level of technology would do well to read this book or others like it.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Rare

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    What a difference it would make if Afghanistan could concentrate its efforts on mining and refining its ores instead of feeding the world’s hunger for drugs. When Seward successfully negotiated our purchase of Alaska in 1867, he also attempted the same for Greenland. The Danes knew a good thing when they had it. Seward wasn’t given to folly after all.

    • Yes, it would be vastly better for Afghanistan and the world if it could tap into its vast mineral wealth and benefit its people (though the mine working conditions aren’t likely to be great) rather than growing endless fields of poppies. And yes, Greenland has plenty of resources as well, as Seward, Truman, and Trump all have recognized.

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