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Reading and/or Writing

November 1, 2010

One of the (incredibly many) challenges I’m finding in trying to write a partially research-based book is trying to decide where the reading ends and the writing begins. It’s a false delineation for sure, because I can’t see how the reading is ever going to end, but a reasonably important question anyway, since the writing has to progress, simultaneously or otherwise. And the fact of the matter is that reading is easier than writing, and it’s awfully tempting to respond to writing difficulty with a fuck-it shrug, pad upstairs, and curl up on the couch with a highlighter and a book.

But then there’s always the hopeful chance that someone will pay me to write (I tend to subscribe to Samuel Johnson’s dictum that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”), and there ain’t nobody gonna pay me, alas, for sitting around and reading. (Though my friend Lorie may beg to differ: Hi Lorie!)

I’ve compiled a bibliography for my Opportunity, Montana book that’s now topped 60 titles and counting, of which I’ve so far read about two-thirds. The most recently read of this bunch is The Story of Copper, a 1924 title by one Watson Davis. There are contemporary trade titles on coal and uranium, among other elemental ingredients of human history and progress, and you might think there’d be one dealing with copper as well, but you’d be wrong. I’ve had a hell of time finding lay treatises on copper (shy of something like the not-exactly-page-turning Copper: A Materials Survey, by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Mines), so I was — I admit it — excited when I found this battered $5 copy of The Story of Copper in Butte’s Second Edition used-book store (a fine place to while away an afternoon, by the way, with a reasonably extensive and locally topical geology section).

This thing is swollen and moldy with water damage (otherwise I’m sure I would have been charged closer to $40 for the privilege), and it’s actually been a pretty damn good read, full of useful tidbits (who knew (and, arguably, who cares?) that New York City’s Grand Central Station, from tap screws to desk fans, contains 2,718,000 pounds of copper?).

The Story of Copper also contains perhaps my favorite sentence so far unearthed in all this digging. Davis opens a chapter titled “The Brass and Bronze of War” with this juicy bombshell:

A man can not be killed in an up-to-date manner without copper.

Umm: Go copper!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lily permalink
    November 2, 2010 10:27 am

    Hi Brad,

    I hear ya. I struggle with the same thing every day.

    The copper book sounds amazing, though. Definitely worth taking the time to read.

    ~Lily

  2. January 27, 2013 6:43 pm

    It isn’t The Story of Copper, but if you need some interconnections among minerals, metals, and daily life, you might consider What Things Are Made Of – some connections to Butte, too. http://www.gravmag.com/whatthings.shtml — and congrats on your book, I look forward to it. (I’m a geologist turned historian in Butte.)

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