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Geoscientist Online

Silver - Nature and Culture

xgjnIt has become popular over the last few years for authors to highlight a mineral commodity, marry science and cultural history behind the commodity.  Silver has been a useful element since early history; coins, medicine, photographs, teeth, swimming pools, ceramics, socks, bandages, homeopathic medicine, utensils, dining ware, sporting trophies, jewellery, cars, planes, space vehicles, electronics, computers and phones are just some of the use of this malleable metal.  It is Silver that drove the development of South America and the establishment of trade routes from Spain to China, including the settlement of the Philippines and Macau by the Spanish. Although gold initially development mining camps throughout the SW USA it was silver that built the cities and towns of Nevada, the Rockies and Mexico. 

So, this book seeks to explain the history behind this metal, in this respect the book succeeds. However, the book has its limitations. For me the largest area of contention is the limited geological content.  When I think of great silver mining camps I think of Comstock, Rochester, Tonopah, Butte and Creede in the USA; Fresnillo and Zacatecas in Mexico; Potosi in Bolivia; Cobalt, Ontario;  Kongsberg in Norway; Erzebirge in central Europe and Lauiron in Greece. Needless to say when Alva, a small but largely irrelevant occurrence in Scotland receives more space than many of these ‘world-class’ deposits then there is a problem. Creede is not even mentioned and Cobalt only in passing.

Despite my disappointment in the limited geological content of the book, the history and cultural importance of Silver is covered in admirable detail. The book is well illustrated with excellent maps, reproduction of historical images and photographs. The bibliography is limited and focused on the main aspects of the book. 

This is an enjoyable light read and is recommended to anyone with a passing interest in this most versatile of metals.

Reviewed by Rob Bowell

SILVER: NATURE AND CULTURE by LINDSAY SHEN 2017 Reaktion Books. ISBN 9781780237565 List price: £14.95     W: www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?ISB=9781780237565&sf1=contributor&st1=%22Lindsay+Shen%22&m=1&dc=1