Dust The modern world in a trillion particles

Jay Owens

Book - 2023

"Dust may seem inconsequential, so tiny and mundane as to slip below the threshold of thought. Yet within the next one hundred years, life on Earth will be profoundly changed by heat and drought - and that means dust. In this ground-breaking book, Jay Owens argues that dust is a legacy of twentieth-century progress and a toxic threat to life in the twenty-first. Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles tells the gripping story of how the relentless drive for profit and power has turned the world to powder. Combining history and science, travel and nature writing, Owens shows how the modern world was made through environmental devastation - and then brushed the consequences under the carpet. From particle air pollution and nuclear... fallout to desertification, dried-up seas and melting glaciers, we've profoundly altered the planet we live on. The cost to human health - and to the natural world - proves immense. From the California desert and the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma to the desiccated remains of the Aral Sea and the edge of the Greenland ice sheet, we are shown that some of the planet's most remote and forgotten places are central to the modern world. With clarity and insight, Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles helps us understand our legacy and discovers the big ideas found within the smallest particles"--

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Informational works
New York : Abrams Press 2023.
Main Author
Jay Owens (author)
Item Description
"First published in Great Britain in 2023 by Hodder & Stoughton, a Hachette UK company"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
392 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Suburbs of Hell
  • 2. Turn That Country Dry
  • 3. Dust to Dust
  • 4. Cleanliness and Control
  • 5. The Vanished Sea
  • 6. Fallout
  • 7. The Ice Record
  • 8. Dust Is Part of the Earth's Metabolism
  • 9. Payahuunadü
  • Coda
  • Acknowledgements
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Owens has written a fascinating and expansive examination of the causes of dust and its effect on people. Chapters focus on subjects including water and power, the history of cleanliness of the home, nuclear fallout, and the great Dust Bowl. Another chapter examines what scientists are learning by studying dust as it appears in Greenland's ice layers. Throughout, Owens relates how dust is fundamentally political, whether it is the dust of nuclear fallout, the dust from forest fires resulting from climate change, or the negative health impacts of dust resulting from dry lake beds after their water has been diverted to supply large cities. She applies a social justice lens to matters throughout the narrative. Owens' writing is moving and persuasive, revealing passion about the subject. While much of the book focuses on the negative impacts of human-related activities, the author also provides examples of how it is possible to clean up some dust-related disasters. Readers will be fascinated by what enormous insights Owens conveys by thoughtfully examining something as tiny as a dust particle.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Owens--whose newsletter, Disturbances, expounded on the science and cultural history of dust--debuts with a sweeping study of how small particles--broadly defined to include sand, smoke, and nuclear fallout--have influenced human history. Chronicling the centuries-long campaign to curb air pollution in London, Owens notes that in 1579 Queen Elizabeth I "banned coal-burning in London when Parliament was sitting" to reduce the proliferation of soot, a problem that worsened during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The 1930s Dust Bowl, Owens explains, started after white colonizers clearing prairies for farmland loosed the arid soil and caused 100 million acres in the central U.S. to fill with "roiling black clouds, seething with static electricity, the air so thick with dirt you couldn't see your own hand in front of your face." Owens also discusses "modernity's invention of cleanliness in the home," contending "people used not to give a damn about dust" until the acceptance of the germ theory of disease led to a wave of moralizing hygiene crusaders in the 1880s who "swept into the houses of the poor... in order to instruct the less fortunate" on cleaning up. Owens's prose is often lyrical and her wide-ranging analysis highlights dust's overlooked historical significance, though the broad scope can sometimes make this feel a bit unfocused. Still, it's a competent and persuasive study of the big impact of small particles. (Nov.)

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