Cover Image



The Never-Ending Story

Michael Welland (Author)


From individual grains to desert dunes, from the bottom of the sea to the landscapes of Mars, and from billions of years in the past to the future, this is the extraordinary story of one of nature's humblest, most powerful, and most ubiquitous materials. Told by a geologist with a novelist's sense of language and narrative, Sand examines the science—sand forensics, the physics of granular materials, sedimentology, paleontology and archaeology, planetary exploration—and at the same time explores the rich human context of sand. Interwoven with tales of artists, mathematicians, explorers, and even a vampire, the story of sand is an epic of environmental construction and destruction, an adventure in staggering scales of time and distance, yet a tale that encompasses the ordinary and everyday. Sand, in fact, is all around us—it has made possible our computers, buildings and windows, toothpaste, cosmetics, and paper, and it has played dramatic roles in human history, commerce, and imagination. In this luminous, kinetic, revelatory account, we do indeed find the world in a grain of sand.

1 Individuals: Birth and Character
2 Tribes: The Strange World of Granular Materials
3 Sand and Imagination I: Very Large Numbers of Very Small Things
4 Societies on the Move: A Journey to the Sea
5 Moving On: Waves, Tides, and Storms
6 Blowing in the Wind: Desert Landscapes
7 Witness: Testaments of Sand
8 Sand and Imagination II: Stories, Medium, and Muse
9 Servant: Sand in Our Lives
10 Outward and Onward: Beyond Earth, beyond the Present

Epilogue: A Desert Mystery
Sources and Further Reading
Michael Welland is a geologist who has worked around the world in the energy industry. He is a fellow of the Geological Societies of America and London and the Royal Society for the Arts and Commerce.
“Anyone who has walked on a beach, run up a sand dune, or built a sand castle will be fascinated.”—Library Journal
Welland's multidisciplinary portrait is as versatile as the element itself.—Chronicle Review
“Relevant and fascinating . . . . Fun-to-read . . . . A worthy science title for the masses.” STARRED REVIEW—Publishers Weekly
“There have been many “single subject” books, but Welland’s is a masterpiece of readability. . . .Accessible, charming, and full of story.”—Orion
“There are worlds to see in a grain of sand, and a world of fascinating information in this book.”—Science News
“Welland has touched seemingly all of history, Earth and space. This is a rare achievement that guarantees the pleasure of learning with every rereading.”—
“A fascinating book that takes the reader on a journey ‘‘To see the world in a grain of sand”. . . . Masterful, imaginative and thoughtful. . . . extraordinary.”—Aeolian Research
“An exploration of the ubiquitous granules in all their glory.”—Bookforum
“Few of us are lucky enough to know sand as well as Michael Welland, but with this book, we can begin to learn.”—Earth Magazine
“This is an awareness book, opening readers' eyes to the many sides of sand, its importance to our quality of life, and its roles in history and even art.”—Science (AAAS)
“Welland’s engaging blend of science and culture, as well as his inviting writing style, result in a book that has something for everyone.”—Sujit S. Datta Pure & Applied Geophysics (Pageoph)
“Unlike many single topic books, Sand follows a trajectory, moving from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from the individual grain to going beyond our planet and our present. Welland mixes in science, art, architecture, and literature. He traces a grain of sand on a quintessential adventure, from mountain to sea down via a river. He shows how sand affects every day objects from cement to glass to computer chips. It is heady stuff, but Welland writes with such passion and erudition that he makes his subjects accessible and fun to learn about.”—Stories In Stone Blog
“Fascinating.”—The Link
"I have learned more about, and become more fascinated with sand from reading this book than I have from studying beaches for thirty-five years! An amazing story."—Reinhard E. Flick, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

"A masterful, entertaining and accessible treatise on the complex world of common sand."—Bruce M. Pavlik, author of The California Deserts

"To do justice to this formidable and glorious subject, you need not only to be in love with it, but also to possess tremendous breadth of knowledge, have the eyes of a poet, scientist and geographer, and be intrepid enough to have seen the deserts of the world at first hand. Fortunately, Michael Welland fits the bill. It is hard to see how this paean to the wonders and mysteries of sand could be bettered."—Philip Ball, author of Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another and Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water

"A fascinating and colorfully written book filled with insights and wit about the magical material called sand."—Stephen P. Leatherman (aka Dr Beach), author of America's Best Beaches

"Sand has given rise to commentary, both poetic and scientific, from the earliest human times. Michael Welland ably winnows this literature, making the subject of sand his base station for a journey around the whole earth system. An impressive achievement."—Andrew Alden, author/editor of's Guide to Geology

"Michael Welland offers a popular, imaginative, and scientific evocation of sand as the creator of the world we experience and seek to understand. Sand is a timely meditation on things both large and small that simultaneously opens the door to the oldest geology and our most recent history."—Joseph Amato, author of Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible

John Burroughs Medal Award, American Museum of Natural History

Honorable Mention for the National Outdoor Book Awards, National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more