Michael Burleigh at Literary Review:
Books on resource wars are ten a penny and usually focus on oil or water conflicts. David Abraham’s attractively written book is unusual because it deals with commodities lurking in plain sight within cars, planes, fibre-optic cables, structural steels, LED lights, cameras, computers, televisions, MRI scanners, military night-vision goggles, missile guidance systems and smart phones – the rare metals.
Take niobium. When Gustave Eiffel built the tower that bears his name, he needed seven thousand tons of steel. With the addition of a pinch of niobium to each ton of steel, a modern replica could be built using five thousand tons fewer. A Boeing 747 has six million components per plane, including about seventy earth metals, such as rhenium, which enables jet engines to run at high temperatures, and titanium, which lightens the fuselage. Both of these reduce the amount of aviation fuel burned.
With little exaggeration Abraham speaks of ‘a war to control the periodic table’, for these ninety-four naturally occurring elements are not evenly distributed and they have very obvious military applications. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is like a flying periodic table, containing 920 pounds of beryllium, gallium, lithium and tantalum, not to mention the titanium used for a quarter of the airframe.