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  • Published: 13 June 2023
  • ISBN: 9780753559161
  • Imprint: WH Allen
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $35.00

Material World

A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future

A bold new story of human progress, told through six materials that built our world and will transform our future. For fans of Tim Marshall, Lewis Dartnell, Jared Diamond and Yuval Harari.

**Shortlisted for the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award**
A BBC RADIO 4 Book of the Week

'A compelling narrative of the human story' TIM MARSHALL, author of Prisoners of Geography

'Lively, rich and exciting... full of surprises' PETER FRANKOPAN, author of The Silk Roads

Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium. They built our world, and they will transform our future.

These are the six most crucial substances in human history. They took us from the Dark Ages to the present day. They power our computers and phones, build our homes and offices, and create life-saving medicines. But most of us take them completely for granted.

In Material World, Ed Conway travels the globe - from the sweltering depths of the deepest mine in Europe, to spotless silicon chip factories in Taiwan, to the eerie green pools where lithium originates - to uncover a secret world we rarely see. Revealing the true marvel of these substances, he follows the mind-boggling journeys, miraculous processes and little-known companies that turn the raw materials we all need into products of astonishing complexity.

As we wrestle with climate change, energy crises and the threat of new global conflict, Conway shows why these substances matter more than ever before, and how the hidden battle to control them will shape our geopolitical future. This is the story of civilisation - our ambitions and glory, innovations and appetites - from a new perspective: literally from the ground up.

  • Published: 13 June 2023
  • ISBN: 9780753559161
  • Imprint: WH Allen
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Ed Conway

Ed Conway is a writer and broadcaster. He is the Economics and Data Editor of Sky News and a regular columnist for The Times and Sunday Times. He has written two critically acclaimed and bestselling books and has won numerous awards for his journalism. He lives in London.

Praise for Material World

A compelling narrative of the human story

Tim Marshall, author of PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY

Ed Conway is a great thinker... Material World is an engrossing study of the basic substances on which we all depend. Anyone who cares about the resources which built our world and where mankind is heading must read this vital book

Adam Boulton, Times Radio

A masterful exploration of how materials shape our world more than ever - economically, geopolitically and environmentally

Diane Coyle CBE, Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge

A highly engaging and important look at the key materials powering our modern world, and how we feed our insatiable appetite for them

Professor Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics at Harvard University and ex-Chief Economist of the IMF

Fascinating, fun, and vitally important. A wonderful exploration of the world we've built yet somehow manage to ignore

Tim Harford, bestselling author of HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD ADD UP

Conway's gripping explanation of a world you didn't know needed explaining deserves this highest of accolades: Material World, once read, leaves us baffled that nobody ever thought of writing it before

Matthew Parris

A stunning book that will transform the way you think about economics and life. Brilliantly written

Matthew Syed, author of REBEL IDEAS

Expansive, erudite, and edifying. A stunning insight into the materials that shaped our history and built the modern world

Prof. Lewis Dartnell, author of 'BEING HUMAN: How our Biology shaped World History'

Lively, rich and exciting ... full of surprises. Underlines that to understand global geopolitics, you need to understand natural resources and geology

Peter Frankopan, author of THE SILK ROADS

In Material World, Ed Conway uncovers the hidden history of the materials that structure our world. Full of colourful characters and fascinating connections, Material World shows how the seemingly simplest materials - from sand to salt to iron - require unbelievably complex refining and processing before arriving at their final form. Absorbing storytelling... Fascinating and insightful

Chris Miller, author of CHIP WAR

Fascinating and forensic in equal measure... reveals the web of mining and manufacturing that underpins the lives of everyone on the planet

Mark Miodownik, author of STUFF MATTERS and UCL Professor of Materials & Society


Martin Wolf, Financial Times - Best Summer Books of 2023: Economics

Endlessly fascinating

Adrian Chiles

Goes straight on the 'must-read' list ... Conway is one of the most adroit commentators on economics and business of our time

City AM

Lucid... fascinating

Financial Times

'[Conway's] book deconstructs the modern world for us to see inside ... As we fret and argue about how to tackle climate change, economic development and geopolitical tensions, this book is a timely reminder of our reliance on physical stuff, and offers a challenging, practical perspective on these debates ... Enlightening


[An] enlightening account... he throws new light on how the world works... Not a sentence jars in Material World

The Times

One of the most interesting books I have read in a really, really long time. It's absolutely brilliant [...] buy it, right now

Merryn Somerset Webb, Merryn Talks Money

[A] masterful exploration of the materials that underpin civilisation . . . The biography of an element or material is now a familiar format . . . but what distinguishes Material World is his access . . . This is not a remote, academic analysis: he has been to the salt mines beneath the North Sea, the mineral railway of the Atacama Desert, the Chilean town being swallowed by the world's demand for copper

Will Dunn, New Statesman

Revealing and empowering

New Statesman, Best Summer Books of 2023

Lively and impeccably written - a welcome addition to the way-the-world-works literature

Kirkus - starred review

An eye-opening celebration of human ingenuity

Andrew Hill, Financial Times, Best Books of 2023 - Business

Compelling - and alarming

New Yorker

A vivid guide to the "material world" on which we all, often unconsciously, rely – and essential background reading to understand securonomics

Rachel Reeves, New Statesman, Books of the Year 2023

Fascinating . . . A revelation

The Times, Best Science and Environment Books of 2023

Rich in revelations . . . [Conway’s] analogies bring the scientific processes to life . . . Offers a fascinating lens on the intricacies of the modern supply chain, the underappreciated science behind everyday objects, and the ways that subtle - and not so subtle - changes in governmental policies shift the role of these materials in the global economy

Bronwen Everill, Foreign Policy