When it comes to putting together a book on a storied subject like gold, the hardest task for the writer is not gathering the material.
It is which tales to leave out. Matthew Hart, author of Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal, does a splendid job of transporting readers from one defining moment in the history of gold to the next. Hart, author of seven books including Diamond and a veteran journalist who has appeared on CNN and 60 Minutes and contributed to Vanity Fair, Globe & Mail and others, had to pick his targets carefully to fit into Gold’s brisk 233-page narrative.
Hart does not find the space to chronicle India’s ongoing love affair with gold, the Bre-X scam of the late Nineties, or today’s headline-making dispute over Europe’s largest gold project in Romania, but the omissions provide Gold with admirable pacing and cohesion.
He often jumps back and forth hundreds or even thousands of years to create an arc that spans from the first gold jewellery created more than 6,000 years ago through vivid descriptions of how Inca gold transformed the European financial system, the “Nixon shock”, the game-changing creation of gold-backed ETFs and right up to how the centre of the gold universe has shifted to China.
Gold is peppered with aphorisms – “Ore is a human construct, not a natural one. Nature makes metal. Ore is made by math.” – and the style is emphatic: “It was a thirst that powered the first gold rush – a murderous, cruel, intoxicating, brutal adventure that swallowed an entire civilization and spat it out as coins.”
In addition to interviews with the major entrants in the race for gold like explorer Mark Bristow of Randgold and Barrrick Gold’s founder Peter Munk, Hart spends time discussing the also-rans.
South Africa’s illegal miners who live for months at a time kilometres down working mine shafts, the artisanal miners caught up in Africa’s First World War in Congo and the thousands of “carrying-ore-on-the-back-people” extracting the last ounces from China, also shine in Gold.
Although Gold sometimes reads more like a novel, it features extensive notes, missing from so much non-fiction, a handy index and an audio version.
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