Gold is the story of a metal whose value drives humans to great lengths and trouble to acquire it. Gold is a precious metal that has people willing to do anything for it. History and geography combine in these tales of exploration and empires. Alexander the Great's conquests were driven by his quest for gold, as were the explorations into the "New World." Miners standing in water painstakingly rinsing pans of gold is known as placer mining, and comes to mind when we think of the California Gold Rush. Vein mining sends miners deep into the earth to excavate the precious ore. Gold resources are limited but once gold is found it can go far. An ounce of gold can be stretched into a wire 50 miles long. Gold's properties are unique and its extraction labor intensive-all of which make it, and this book, a rare treat.
Meltzer makes nonfiction an exciting story. As he did in "The Amazing Potato" (1992), he takes his subject across time and geography, culture and discipline, and weaves together history, science, biography, economics, and art. In fact, his approach can be a model for the whole language curriculum. In an easy conversational style, he discusses the role of gold in the ancient world and the great African empires, and he connects the past with contemporary technology and exploitation. He makes you imagine what it must have been like to be a slave digging in the mines; or a fortune hunter caught up in a gold rush, from California and the Klondike to Australia, South Africa, and Peru; or a Makuna Indian in the rain forest today, seeing your way of life devastated by the drive for gold. The book design is accessible, with occasional boxed insets and lots of old prints and photographs. There's a long bibliography, and brief notes at the end discuss the books used for each chapter. Meltzer shows that the story of gold is one of great inventiveness and also of human cruelty and greed.