Check it out: History worth its weight in gold

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Review

“Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History”

By Eric Chaline; Firefly Books, 223 pages

It's that time of year when certain minerals get a lot of attention from gift givers and gift recipients alike. Gold, silver, diamonds -- these mineral superstars pop and flash as weary holiday shoppers cruise past department store windows. Sure, they're beautiful, and who doesn't like unwrapping a little bling on Christmas morning? But at the end of the day, gold rings and diamond necklaces are really all style and no substance. Once you've opened the box and emitted exclamations of joy and amazement, what else is there to talk about?

If you're thinking about presenting a shiny bauble to your loved one two weeks from now, might I suggest sharing the power of knowledge instead? Here's what you do. First, check out "Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History" from the library. Second, read up on alabaster, platinum and tungsten. Finally, wow your beloved with an assortment of mineralogical musings.

Explain that nacre is the technical name for mother-of-pearl. Point out that asphalt (yes, asphalt) really is a mineral, and that the ancient Greeks used asphalt to create a fierce weapon known as Greek Fire. How fierce was it? Well, author Eric Chaline describes it as "the A-bomb of its day." Disclose why sand, also a mineral, played such an important role in the development of human civilization (here's a hint: glass). And alabaster? Today we might remark on a person's alabaster complexion, but in ancient Greece (those crafty Greeks again), alabaster containers were used to store a mummy's internal organs. I guess you could say that alabaster is good for both inner and outer beauty -- ha! Believe me, once you start mining this book, you'll have no trouble digging out nuggets of fascinating information!

So this holiday season, instead of draining your bank account on over-priced trinkets, arm yourself with ores of mineral information, and bedazzle the heck out of siblings, coworkers, maybe even worn-out store clerks. Remember: knowledge truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.