This informative and thought-provoking account of civilization’s complete dependence on copper, and what extracting it from the earth really means for people, nature, and the global economy is “the best sort of journalism: beautifully written, rich in detail, and impossible to ignore” (Sebastian Junger).
Copper is a miraculous and contradictory metal, essential to nearly every human enterprise. For most of recorded history, this remarkably pliable and sturdy substance has proven invaluable: not only did the ancient Romans build their empire on mining copper but Christopher Columbus protected his ships from rot by lining their hulls with it. Today, this metal can be found in every house, car, airplane, cell phone, computer, and home appliance around the world, including in all the new, so-called green technologies.
Yet the history of copper extraction and our present relationship with the metal are fraught with profound difficulties. Copper mining causes irrevocable damage to the Earth, releasing arsenic, cyanide, sulfuric acid, and other deadly pollutants into the air and water. And the mines themselves have significant effects on the economies and wellbeing of the communities where they are located.
Now, Carter delivers a blazing and fact-rich narrative that helps us understand the paradoxical relationship we have with a substance whose necessity to civilization costs the environment and the people who mine it dearly. Starting in his own backyard in the old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona—where he discovers that the dirt in his garden contains double the acceptable level of arsenic—he follows the story of copper to the controversial Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia; to the “ring” at the London Metal Exchange, where a select group of traders buy and sell enormous amounts of the metal; and to an Alaskan salmon run threatened by mining. Part social history, part mining-town exploration, and part environmental investigation, this is a work of first-rate journalism that fascinates on every level.
About the Author
Bill Carter is the author of Red Summer: The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village; Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World; and Fools Rush In: A True Story of Love, War, and Redemption. He is also the director of Miss Sarajevo, an award-winning documentary produced by Bono. He has written for Rolling Stone, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other publications. He lives with his family in southern Arizona.
“Boom, Bust, Boom, if you pardon the wordplay, booms. It pops off the page as adventure, troubling history, ecological warning, travel narrative, even a bit of horror. If one can write horror suffused with joy of place, joy of language. Utter abandon and delight in story. Jim Harrison calls the book ‘hearty.’ I second that.”
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter and The Devil's Highway
“Bill Carter has extracted something that remains all but unnoticed by most people—copper—and told an incredible story about this amazing metal. Boom, Bust, Boom is the best sort of journalism: beautifully written, rich in detail and impossible to ignore. I particularly loved how Carter wove a personal story into a topic of global scope. I know, as a writer, how hard that is to pull off, and as a reader i am always amazed when someone does. It is a superb book.”
—Sebastian Junger, author of War and The Perfect Storm
“Bill Carter’s new book is utterly engaging. I want to use the words fabulous and hearty. We often think we know the world but then we read a book that tells us we didn’t. Carter is a hard man and he humiliates the copper industry and the grave dangers they carelessly expose us to. A necessary read for thinking Americans.”
—Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall
“Copper is the curse of the southwest. Bill Carter’s blazing book takes us to the crime scene where our lust for things murders the earth. Time to kill the cellphone, leave twitter to the twits and listen up.”
—Charles Bowden, author of Murder City
“Carter’s scope is large, but his storytelling technique is up-close and personal. In the end, the author decided to move his family out of his beloved Bisbee to escape the threat of a reopened copper mine, but he makes it abundantly clear that there is, for our modern society, no escape from dependence on copper. A well-told, fact-filled story written with a touch of fury and a dash of regret.”
“Boom, Bust, Boom is written like a good documentary, exposing the author's struggle to find answers through his own personal journey. Through Carter's eyes, we are reminded of our inextricable link to this landscape-altering resource -- and the consequences of our dependence.”
—Wall Street Journal
“a riveting expose... full of personal, historical, and technical information, that lead inexorably to the question whether we can control our appetite for this critical element in order to protect the people and natural resources that make life on Earth worth living.”
“An idiosyncratic but compelling examination of the mining of copper, which is vital to modern communications, but at a daunting environmental cost.”