Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal

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From the lost empires of the Sahara to today’s frenzied global gold rush, a blazing exploration of the human love affair with gold by the award-winning author of Diamond.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the price of gold has skyrocketed—in three years more than doubling from $800 an ounce to $1900. This massive spike kicked off an unprecedented global gold-mining and exploration boom, much bigger than the Gold Rush of the 1800s. In Gold, acclaimed author Matthew Hart takes you ...

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Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal

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From the lost empires of the Sahara to today’s frenzied global gold rush, a blazing exploration of the human love affair with gold by the award-winning author of Diamond.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the price of gold has skyrocketed—in three years more than doubling from $800 an ounce to $1900. This massive spike kicked off an unprecedented global gold-mining and exploration boom, much bigger than the Gold Rush of the 1800s. In Gold, acclaimed author Matthew Hart takes you on an unforgettable journey around the world and through history to tell the incredible story of how gold became the world’s most precious commodity.

Beginning with a page-turning dispatch from the crime-ridden, dangerous inferno of the world’s deepest mine, Hart pulls back to survey gold’s tempestuous past. From the earliest civilizations, 6,000 years ago, when gold was an icon of sacred and kingly power, Hart tracks its evolution, through conquest, murder, and international mayhem, into the speculative casino-chip that the metal has become. On this spellbinding journey the reader will witness the Spanish plunder of the New World, a century of pillage that crushed the glittering Inca empire of the Andes and transferred its staggering wealth to Europe. Hart describes each boom and bust in gold’s long story, each panic and shock, with a masterful storytelling hand, leading the reader to the present day—to the London vaults that hold the multi-ton hoards of such shadowy investors as the American gold fund called “the Spider,” to the amazing gold-rich bamboo forests of eastern Senegal, and to the piratical carnival of theft that enlivens the world’s greatest gold-producing engine: China.

With writing described as “polished and fiery” (Publishers Weekly), Hart weaves together history and cutthroat economics to reveal the human dramas that have driven our lust for a precious yellow metal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 12/02/2013
Object of lustful desire, symbol of the divine, and representation of great temporal wealth, gold has clouded mankind's judgment for millennia. Here, with remarkable clarity, Hart (Diamond) reveals our historical and economic relationship with this beguiling metal. Drawing from solid research, Hart informs us that in recent years of economic uncertainty, demand for gold has surged, increasing both its price and its production. In fact, the total current global supply continues to grow at an incredible rate while being traded with unprecedented speed and ease. With discussions including the modern mines of South Africa, Pizarro's conquest of the Inca, the London Gold Fixing, as well as hedge funds and gold bullion ETFs, the work not only explores the world history of a commodity, but also provides keen insight into the mechanics of the modern gold markets and its driving players. Combining the engaging style of a travel narrative with sharp-eyed journalistic exposé, Hart's lucid book should find an audience ranging from goldbugs and investors to market-watchers and everyday consumers curious to learn how gold has influenced world history and the present economy. (Dec.)
“From deep within the gold mines of South Africa and China to corporate boardrooms, from miners and thieves to body guards and gold traders, Hart (Diamond, 2001) offers a fascinating look at the geology, geopolitics, and economics of gold.”
Columbus Dispatch
“In his absorbing book Gold, Matthew Hart looks at the precious metal both as a mineral … and as an idea that has evolved in dizzyingly strange ways through the millenniums.”
The Daily Beast
“[A]n impressionistic portrait of an industry that blends history, science, colorful character sketches, and lively firsthand accounts of the author’s travels”
“[E]ngaging and rollicking”
"Gold does a splendid job of transporting readers from one defining moment in the history of gold to the next."
Boston Globe
"Hart’s book offers a compelling, stylish, and impressively researched portrait of the history and economics of a metal that has disrupted the world order while enriching some and ruining countless others... He is a talented storyteller."
Library Journal
Since its emergence six millennia ago as the mark of royal or priestly power, gold has dominated our imagination. Veteran journalist Hart offers a history of this glittery, gorgeous metal, ranging from the conquistadores' plunder of South America to the 1800s Gold Rush to the recent doubling of the price of gold from $800 to $1,900 an ounce. Already, several long-lead print and TV and radio sources have expressed interest, so expect big things.
Kirkus Reviews
Overview of gold's perpetual dominance over modern and past societies, focused on historical and economic issues. Characterizing the preceding millennium's obsession with gold as "a murderous, cruel, intoxicating, brutal adventure," Hart (The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, 2004, etc.) moves swiftly from discussing current armed conflicts in South African mines to Francisco Pizarro's 16th-century assault on the Incan people, which filled Spain's imperial coffers and accelerated Europe's gold-based economy. The author's general approach is to flit between multiple elements pertaining to the topic. Several chapters examine the controversial concept of economies based on the "gold standard" of direct exchange: "The strict operation of the gold standard sent regular waves of misery through the world, as the vagaries of trade would drain a gold supply and lacerate an economy." This resulted in regular convulsions within the United States, providing grist for conspiracy theorists. Hart focuses on watersheds like the 1892 run on gold, Franklin Roosevelt's executive order barring gold hoarding, and the lesser-known account of Richard Nixon's suspension of gold convertability in a startling prime-time speech. Today, the author argues that shadowy gold trading groups like the British "Spider" (from SPDR Gold Shares) establish the market value of gold using complex methodologies not unlike those that precipitated the Great Recession. He also looks at how gold fever has seized post-reform China, the eccentric geologists whose innovations led to enormous strikes beginning in the 1950s, and pulpy tales of stolen gold. Hart is a fine close-in journalist, gathering many engaging facts and anecdotes about gold's production and endless manipulation within the world economy and human psychology, but the lack of a compelling central narrative makes the work feel less cohesive. Recommended for those determined to speculate in gold as an alleged hedge against economic tremors.
From the Publisher
"David Drummond's narration adds to the intrigue with a deep, reverberating voice that grabs listeners' attention." —-AudioFile
Library Journal
Gold may be the "world's most seductive metal" according to author Hart (Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair) in this history of gold in civilization and the stories of its acquisition. Each chapter describes key events, including a firsthand account about the work of South African miners and the issues of illegal mining and stolen gold from the mine; 16th-century Spanish plundering of gold from the Incas; the story of the California Gold Rush; the development of the gold standard; gold mining in China in the 21st century; and current speculation and investment in gold and its rising and falling prices that skyrocketed during the financial crisis of 2008. The author focuses on case studies on gold investment, including those by John Livermore and Peter Munk, the latter of who based his research on interviews with those directly involved in the search, as well as investors. VERDICT Hart offers an intriguing look at gold and its impact on economics, finance, and history. Business professors and students, investors, and general readers will find this an informative and fascinating study. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]—Lucy Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., NY
The Barnes & Noble Review

"A saffron light was seeping onto the veld when I drove out to the gates of hell." So begins Matthew Hart's journey through centuries of murder, brutality, bribery, theft, and devastation, through inexhaustible greed and boundless ingenuity. This is the story of gold in human affairs and the subject of Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal. Hart, who has already polished off diamonds in Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession and told an extraordinary tale of abducted art in The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, shows once again that he is a master at displaying the ugly side of beauty.

The present book begins with South Africa's Mponeng mine, a manmade abyss descending almost three miles into the bowels of the earth, along the way spawning 236 miles of tunnels. That subterranean labyrinth is made only barely tolerable by a vast cooling and ventilating system that uses as much electricity, he says, as a city of 400,000. It is a terrible universe of exploding rock face, collapsing tunnels, faulty cables, and bands of pirate miners, some of whom rarely see the earth's surface.

The pillage of the Inca empire by Spanish conquistadores under Francisco Pizarro is the next theater of horror to which Hart treats us. Holding Atahualpa, the divine head of the Inca people, hostage, Pizarro demanded and received a vast ransom in gold. It came pouring in from all over the empire in the shape of finely wrought vessels, statuary, ornaments, adornments, and sacred emblems (including a throne and altar made of solid gold). With only a few exceptions, which Pizarro retained as trophies, these exquisite creations of the goldsmith's art were melted down into ingots. Hart sums it up: "The artistic output of a thousand years vanished into the furnaces. It must be one of the most potent images in history -- the transformation of a culture into cash?. To the scratch of pens the Inca's patrimony went into the furnace and a river of gold flowed off to Europe." In the end, though it practically goes without saying, Atahualpa was killed. (It gives me pleasure to report that Pizarro himself was later assassinated by a rival conquistador.)

Hart also brings the reader through history and into the present, often as a visitor, to the gold fields of California, Nevada, China, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each with its own tale of discovery and unedifying, even phantasmagorical, frenzy. But the book is more than a story of indefatigable human badness; it is also an absorbing account of the technology and science of gold extraction. To be sure, this, too, devolves into more badness: poisoning land, water, and human beings with cyanide, mercury, and sulfuric acid; rerouting rivers; laying waste to the earth; supplanting traditional ways of life with single- minded scrambles for wealth; and giving rise to slavery, thuggery, banditry, and territorial wars.

The beauty, incorruptibility, and comparative rarity of gold -- the qualities that made it valuable, even sacred, in noncommercial societies - - long ago became insignificant in comparison to its function as money. According to Hart, gold coins appeared in the seventh century BC, the first step on the metal's path to its starring role in human history. Thus the story of gold is, perforce, a key part of the story of money itself. In looking at money through gold, Hart's book provides a glimpse of the extent to which what we take for realty is in fact the manifestation of a mathematical grid, one that affects even the ground under our feet.

With gold at $32 an ounce -- as it was for years under the gold standard - - vast stretches of the earth are merely the ground, but as the price of gold rises, greater and greater areas are transformed into "ore," which is to say, material from which the increased expense (and mayhem) of extracting minute amounts of gold will produce a profit. Even more striking, however, is gold's transcendence of its own materiality as it enters the financial cosmology of the late twentieth and early twenty- first centuries. The severing of the dollar's direct relationship to gold (an exciting story of Nixonian stealth!) and the creation of bullion trusts, both clearly described by Hart, had the strange, almost mystical effect of stripping gold of intrinsic worth while, at the same time, grotesquely increasing the amount of money it pulled to and fro. In the first quarter of 2011, according to Hart, "the value of gold traded was $15,200,000,000,000?125 times what the world produced in a year, or twice as much as gold as had been mined in all of history." Gold -- like everything from corn to real estate that passes into today's digitized financial sphere -- dissolved into derivatives. In this case they are derivatives of stashes of gold that, I gather, only those who believe financiers are men of good faith are convinced actually exist.

Gold, Hart observes, no longer occupies "a special asset class ordained by history: all you can say is that it did." The story of gold as told here is a tragedy, a grotesque illustration of the centrality of greed in human nature -- not to mention the eternal strain of vulgarity in the shape of "cashed-up tycoons." It is not a pretty picture, but it is completely engrossing and, despite its melancholy subject matter, written with high- spirited grace.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. She is the editor of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942–1963.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451650020
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 147,798
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Hart is a veteran writer and journalist, and author of seven books, including the award-winning Diamond. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, the London Times, and The Financial Post Magazine. He was a contributing editor of the New York trade magazine Rapaport Diamond Report, and has appeared on 60 Minutes, CNN, and the National Geographic Channel. He lives in New York City.

Good To Know

In our interview, Hart revealed some interesting facts about himself:

"My first car was a black MG Sprite with bugeye headlights. My girlfriend said she liked getting in and out of it more than she liked driving around in it. Our romance quickly fell apart."

"I love the Diamond Coast above all other places, for its remoteness."

"When I was working on Diamond, I met a bush pilot who had made a fortune in the stock market, betting on the Arctic diamond play. Yet he still flew a bush plane (a Twin Otter), and couldn't imagine doing anything else. I remember one flight where we flew mile after mile, hundreds of miles, very low to the ground, with this scarlet vegetation streaming by beneath us and lakes with white swans, and I thought the pilot must be the luckiest man on earth, to be able to pursue this life when he could easily afford any other. I guess it's the life of action that so appeals to a writer, whose life, after all, is mostly sitting in a room alone all day."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England

Customer Reviews

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    Posted December 22, 2013

    Rain silver kolie


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