Seven Elements That Have Changed the World: Iron, Carbon, by John Browne

By John Browne

People have placed the Earths assets to striking use. Carbon offers us with warmth, gentle and mobility on the flick of a swap. From silver got here images, the renovation of thoughts, and a role which for hundreds of years used to be limited to painters, sketchers and our imaginations. Silver in flip was once ultimately changed by way of silicon, a component which allows us to speak and transmit info around the globe immediately. yet our use of the Earths assets isn't really continuously for the advantage of humankind. Our dating with the weather is one in every of nice ambivalence. Uranium produces either efficient nuclear energy and harmful atomic bombs iron is the bloody weapon of battle, but in addition the commercial device of peace our wish for desirable gold is the basis of worldwide alternate, yet has additionally ended in the dying of hundreds of thousands. This booklet vividly describes how seven key parts have formed the realm round us - for reliable and for undesirable. Seven parts takes you on an experience of human ardour, ingenuity and discovery. This trip is much from over: we proceed to discover unbelievable new makes use of for those seven components. become aware of how titanium pervades smooth buyer society how ordinary fuel is reworking the worldwide strength area and the way an leading edge new kind of carbon can be beginning a technological revolution. Seven components is a special mixture of technology, historical past and politics, interwoven with the authors huge own event.

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Additional info for Seven Elements That Have Changed the World: Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium, Silicon

Example text

Rockefeller became the world’s first nominal billionaire in 1916, when many Americans still lived in slums with no running water or electricity. 44 Carnegie’s call for wealth redistribution has resurfaced in recent years. 45 Contemporary billionaires, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, ask why the super-rich are not taxed more, and, like Carnegie, support giving money back to society through targeted philanthropy. Just as in the days of the strike at the Homestead Steel Works, sections of the public feel intense anger towards the rich, towards business and towards the political class.

In July 1882, the labour contract between Carnegie and his workers at the Homestead Steel Works was due to expire. The skilled workers at Homestead were being paid more than the industry average and Carnegie saw an opportunity to save on labour costs. He also wanted to reduce the influence of the Amalgamated Association union at the mill. At the time the union, whose membership consisted of skilled metalworkers, held a powerful bargaining position. Carnegie saw this as restricting progress and profits and so Henry Clay Frick, whom Carnegie had placed in charge of operations at the plant, cut the workers’ pay.

It surprised me then, and continues to astound me now. Traversing the remainder of this line, I passed a number of familiar metals: iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc. All of them are so important but, I wondered, which one actually changed the world. I stuck with my choice of iron and left copper behind; electrical engineering will have its fair share with silicon. I passed silver, the element of photography, and then in the line below reached gold. Its universal allure led to its use in coins, the basis of currencies for centuries and the foundation of international trade.

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