July 01, 2014

Book Review - Seven Elements that have Changed the World by John Browne

The author joined BP in 1966 and ended up as Group Chief Executive from 1995 to 2007. Here he provides a potted history of the seven elements that he has selected as world changers: iron, carbon, gold, silver, uranium, titanium and silicon. This is a very interesting book but one to be read in small stages rather than all in one gulp. His views as an industry insider on coal seam gas are fascinating and it is certainly interesting to hear how the major energy players get to sit down with political leaders to discuss business. It's that important! His exploration of these elements is more than that, however, and full of interesting facts. For example, titanium was first isolated by an English clergyman chemist in 1791 but not put to real use until 1910. Later, when its lightness and strength were used for an aircraft that could fly high and evade radar in the late 50s, they made a frame that had to withstand such high temperatures and consequent large expansion at altitude, that on the ground there were such large gaps that it's fuel tank leaked. Before Silicon Valley, the glass blowers of Murano Island in Venice were so important to the Venetian economy, that any glass blower who left and took their trade secrets would have remaining family members executed in an attempt to frighten them into staying. The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (1682) was not only a demonstration of vast wealth, it was cutting edge technology in the latest mirror manufacture. And many more stories are of good general interest. Not the most readable book, but it does reward you. Wendy

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