By Phil Klutts
May 16, 2024

Material World

Explore the fascinating stories and business lessons of crucial raw materials in "Material World," a book by Ed Conway.

Material World won’t catch your eye as a business book, but that’s one of the reasons why I want to share it with you. This book made it to my hands as a vacation read—not a work-related book but one that would still engage my mind. Despite my intention to escape, I continued to find business frameworks and relevant tidbits as I read through Spring Break. 

Author Ed Conway includes aspects of economics, strategy, supply chain, technology, and psychology in “Material World.” Rarely a week goes by in my business when I use or talk about these same categories. Conway’s story-telling method grabs your attention and carries it throughout the book. I also knew it was a hit when both my retired father and my 12-year-old son wanted to continue to read when I shared a sample with them. 

“Material World” follows the lifecycle of the “six raw materials that shape modern civilization,” including ancient discovery, development, and current uses. Conway goes deep into the history of sand, salt, iron, copper, oil, and lithium. All of these materials make the core of the world we know today. You’ll be hard-pressed to read a section without learning some new information.  

One of my first takeaways from Conway’s work is that these are not shiny, glamorous minerals and stones. “Material World” is not concerned with gold, silver, or diamonds. While gold and diamonds are popular, valuable, and have some industrial utility, they are not as impactful to society as the work-horse materials examined within the book. 

The book starts with ancient history, discussing material that varies widely across the globe. Sand comes in many varieties, but the main ingredient in most sand is silica. This ordinary yet profound material is used in so many ways, such as glass (all different kinds), and most importantly, in the modern technology age, silicon microchips. We even hear about sand again in the oil chapter of “Material World” as it used to in the completion activities of modern oil and gas extraction. 

Salt is another material that is both ancient and modern. Conway begins his exploration of salt via a spot in England that has archeologic treasures from various eras in time all the back to 3700 BC, the Neolithic age. All the settlements in this one area are there because of salt. Salt echos through many parts of our lives, not to mention our bodies’ reliance on table salt (sodium chloride) to function properly. Controlling salt often meant controlling the economies of the world. 

There are still four other materials discussed in “Material World” that I won’t start to dive into here. I recommend picking up this book for both business and personal reading. It may not be a book that lists tactics and how-to segments, but it does hold many insights into the business world in which we all operate.

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About Phil Klutts

Phil is an Edmond native and has managed to keep his wife here instead of traveling the world, which they both enjoy. They have two boys who love the outdoors, adventures, and learning new things. Phil is a problem-solver at heart and enjoys connecting people to the resources they need.

In addition to being the co-owner of Edmond Business, Phil founded the CK Group LLC after working for large and small businesses in the Energy, Construction, and Fitness industries. He focuses on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs improve their systems and processes. CK Group LLC's mission is to eliminate chaos and create clarity for small business by connecting vision, strategy, and implementation.