Book review: Sand ~ Michael Welland


Sand – A journey through science and the imagination
(US: Sand – The Never-Ending Story)
Michael Welland, 2009

Bagnold’s Libyan Sands is one of the best books on desert exploration around, but I always consciously avoided taking on his better known Physics of Blown Sand, assuming it would be too hard going. So I hoped Michael Welland’s ‘Sand’ might have been an accessible compromise on the substance which any desert traveller inevitably finds fascinating.

Sadly this was not that book. Yes the author knows his science (perhaps too much of it?) and has researched the ‘imagination’ side thoroughly. He writes well too, but I suspect slack editors allowed him to pack just too much in and diverge too often (‘first book syndrome’?). And so you soon get bogged down and lacking any literary sand mats you begin to lose interest. Who else would get away with throwing in an A to Z appendix-like list of anything related to sand, like H for hourglass or C for construction.

I felt the author strayed from the topic of sand too many times to discuss general geological processes or whatever else took his interest. Even the desert landscapes chapter I ought to have devoured was surprisingly unsatisfying; he starts going on about the animals which burrow in the s….. After that I’m sorry to say I gave up and fast forwarded to the epilogue which revives the Libyan Desert Glass enigma and adds yet another personal anecdote. There are too many other good books to read, and I think the much quoted Sand, Wind and War also by Bagnold may be among them.