Thumbs up for Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman. Science.
Two things I like: civil engineering and materials science! This is the type of book that will stand or fall depending on the skill of the writer, and it stood very tall indeed. While not out-and-out funny like Mary Roach, Waldman is incredibly engaging and slyly witty. (I laughed every time he itemized the moustaches in a room of engineers.) I read this book in two giant gulps – there was a slow patch in a middle chapter that I confess stalled me a bit – and I now know as much as any non-engineer would ever want to know about corrosion. If Waldman writes about, I don’t know, diapers, I will read it, because I know it will be great.
At the International Time Capsule Society, at Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta, they’re serious about the future. They keep a detailed registry of all known time capsules and encourage amateur time-capsule builders to sign it. They search for clues leading to the nine most-wanted time capsules, which, as fate would have it, have been lost to history. Most importantly, they advise time-capsule builders on archival storage techniques. They recommend a good, strong steel safe to create a cool, dry space in which to preserve artifacts. Get into details, and they’ll recommend a product called Ageless Z100. Ageless Z100 is an oxygen absorber, used to create a hypoxic, or anoxic, environment for maximum preservative powers. The product comes in sachets about the size of a wallet. The packets are inexpensive, because they consist of nothing more than iron filings in a permeable pouch, labeled NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. The idea is that the iron will reliably, eagerly react with any oxygen in the time capsule, thereby keeping pesky oxygen from damaging any of the valuable artifacts also trapped within. Ageless Z100 thus becomes its own unintentional artifact. For in fifty, one hundred, five hundred, or a thousand years, when our descendants open our time capsules and find articles and documents and relics revealing our culture, creations, and achievements, they will also those small white packets of iron oxide. Those little bags of rust. They’ll know, almost before they know anything else about us, that oxygen was our enemy. That rust was our plague.
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