Gold: A History, a Hunt, a Fever – An easy read, but fails to address obvious problems – by Douglas Bell (Globe and Mail – January 10, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The currency of journalism is impartiality. Ideally, it is practiced without fear or favour. When conducted at the behest of an a priori agenda, it is impotent (hardcore journalists are forever sneering at those who practice “advocacy”).

As a practical matter the difference is obvious. State owned and operated media in Russia don’t afford the same species of product as the BBC. An authoritarian oligarchy rigs its “journalism” to filter out inconvenient facts. The BBC enjoys credibility precisely because the broadcaster and its news service engineers a relationship at arm’s length from the state. In this sense, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Matthew Hart’s approach in reporting the global gold rush is, in spirit, nearer Moscow than London.

Formally Hart – himself a former producer at CBC news and an esteemed print journalist – is a fluent stylist and an adventurous reporter. In South Africa, he plummets into the earth more than a mile and a half (“My stomach sailed into my ribs. My ears blocked. Air whistled through the wire mesh”) aiming to investigate what it takes to dig the stuff out.

He has a practised eye and ear for the telling detail: “As the cage hurtled down the shaft, the suspended weight increased. The cage by itself weighed twenty thousand pounds…Then there was the weight of the steel rope that held the cage. The rope was two-and-a-half inches thick and weighed twelve pounds a foot. That meant that for every thousand feet we dropped, the rope added six tons to the weight it had to hold – an extra ton every 3.6 seconds. I pictured the steel rope unspooling in a blur, packing steel onto our plummeting car.”

Hart’s reporting proceeds at a similar pace throughout. He ping-pongs around the planet from the trading rooms of London to dark and dank mines in the Congo to China and through time from South America’s fabulous pre-Columbian treasure troves to the 19th-century western American rush for the yellow metal “from the seashore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas.”

As to the characters our narrator encounters, they tend – whether dressed in Savile Row suits or denim coveralls – to the hard-bitten, rough and ready variety. They move “with an athletic step,” have “flat green eyes” and are occasionally “grizzled.” One mining magnate has “the build and temperament of a cape Buffalo” and “a weakness for such diversions as hurling himself out of airplanes for a thirty-second free fall;

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