Of course, someone like me, who was born and raised in the Rust Belt, currently lives in the Rust Belt, and writes about the Rust Belt would instantly pick up Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman. Waldman's debut book is really a collection of essays all concerning, yep, you guessed it, rust. For most readers, this would not be the most interesting subject, but through strong narrative navigation of both history and science, Waldman tells the story of an element that "is costlier than all other natural disasters combined."
Rust is bookend by two chapters that explore the way that we discovered that the Statue of Liberty was rusting apart. In between these two chapters are other essays that explore the influence that rust has had on history. Many subjects are explored including the life of Harry Brearley, who is credited with inventing stainless steel; issues regarding the upkeep of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System which covers over 100 miles; and the day-to-day products of dealing with rust that can be found at the local Home Depot. Still, my favorite subject is the chapter titled "Indiana Jane" where Waldman introduces the reader to Alyssha Eve Csuk, who photographs rust, and in particular spends a lot of time finding the beauty is such places as Bethlehem Steel Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In her back cover blurb, Mary Roach (one of my favorite authors), says this about Rust: "The clarity and quiet wit of Waldman's prose, his gift for narrative, his zeal for reporting, and his eye for detail -- these things and more put him in a class with John McPhee and Susan Orlean." I agree. But I also would place Rust in the category of books that bring to life the history of one element, whether that element is an animal, a place, or even a mineral. It's very easy to compare Rust to some of my other favorites including Diamond by Matthew Hart and Cod by Mark Kurlansky.
Still, Rust is not one of those books that "reads" like a novel. Instead, it's a book that should be read slowly -- both to digest the content and enjoy the prose. Certainly, I walked away from this work knowing a little bit more about the corrosion that covers old bait buckets, the hubcaps of my car, the guardrails, even the old tankers located in the railroad yard just a few blocks from where I live. In short, I know a little more about the world where I live.
In many ways, I am more of a reader than a writer. This page will serve as a home for my informal reviews of what I've been reading.