A concise summary of the materials that are used in pretty much every manufacturing and industrial process, from ancient times to the present. In the later chapters, Smil covers environmental concerns and ways in which we are “dematerializing”: reducing the amount of materials we need to maintain our standard of living.
Smil’s writing is dense at every level, but he does a good job of surveying and summarizing, so his books are good to get an overview. I didn’t read the entire book, but I read the chapters that summarized historical and present materials use. It was good to make sure that I was aware of all the most important materials, and it did a good job of indicating the relative volume and importance of various materials (e.g., ranking all metals by use).
Relevant posts: Vaclav Smil on “Making the Modern World”