Rust: The Longest War


Jonathan Waldman




Date Reviewed:

Sept 16, 2016

picked up this book at the library. It was a surprising subject - an entire book about rust? Really? There are some glowing reviews on the front cover: "Impossible to put down", "Masterful", "Engrossing". Intrigued, I checked the book out, and read the whole thing (it is relatively short).

Rust has 11 chapters. Each chapter looks at rust from a different viewpoint. Some of the chapters are indeed masterful and engrossing, but other chapters are simply filler material. These chapters should have been excised, but then the overall book would be too short. The result is an uneven read. I suggest skipping the boring chapters.

Chapter 1 is about the Statue of Liberty. This is a great introductory chapter. It describes how the famous landmark was riddled with rust problems, and the expensive and immense engineering effort that went into repairing the damage and restoring the Statue's luster. There is a lot to like in this chapter. I rate this chapter 5 stars.

Chapter 2 is titled Spoiled Iron. This chapter contains a technical description of rust. The chemistry of rust. It is only seven pages long, so you may as well read it and learn something. 3 stars for this chapter.

Chapter 3 is called Knives That Won't Cut. It is the story of a determined Englishman named Harry Brearley and how he invented stainless steel. I thought this was an interesting portrait of the man and his times. 4 stars for this chapter.

Chapter 4 is all about storing food in cans, with a primary focus on beverages in aluminum cans. There is a lot of interesting details here about the engineering of cans and how hard it is to design these seemingly-simple objects that we use everyday. The author seems to be trying to create fake tension when he asks questions about BPA hormones used in the coats that line the alumnimum cans, he should trust that his material is interesting in its own right, he doesn't need to manufacture silly scenarios about how goons from the beverage companies are going to throw him out of can school. 4 stars for this chapter.

Chapter 5 is one of the bad chapters. It is called Indiana Jane, and it describes a woman photographer who specializes in taking pictures of rust and selling them as works of art. (Really!) The author accompanies the photographer on a tour of a closed and rusting steel plant, which is OFF LIMITS. Oh no! What if a guard sees them and asks them to leave? Again, the author tries to create drama when none exists, the chapter is lame. The author extolls the beauty of these photographs of rust, but oddly, there are no pictures of this beautiful rust included in the book (which does include photographs of other subjects.) 1 star rating - skip this dumb chapter.

Chapter 6 is another wasted chapter. The author tries to create an intriguing portrait of Dan Dunmire, the DOD official in charge of rust control. This goes much too long - 42 pages of nothing - I really slogged trying to get through this section. Just awful filler material. 1 star rating. You may find the description of the eccentric Dunmire amusing, I did not.

Chapter 7 is called Streets of Zinc, it is about galvanizing - the technique of coating steel with zinc to prevent rust. Plating with zinc is more expensive initially than simply painting a steel structure, but the zinc plating will last much longer than a coat of paint. Painted structures require much more maintenance than zinc covered structures. So why don't politicians pay more on the front end to save maintenance dollars later? This chapter is just 8 pages and is an okay read. Rating: 3 stars.

Chapter 8 is called Ten Thousand Mustachioed Men - the author tells us about the professional organizations of rust prevention engineers. We learn that NACE is their acronymn. The author tells us that many of these guys have a mustache, but it isn't funny, by the time you read this far into the book, the author has already gone overboard with his mustache descriptions and it isn't all amusing. At least this chapter is only 12 pages long.

Chapter 9 is excellent! It describes the Trans Alaska Pipeline and the robots (which are called pigs) that are sent through the pipe to try and detect corrosion and faults. This long chapter (54 pages) describes one epic run of a new pig all the way from mile 0 to the final exit point at Valdez. There are many interesting details. Skip the three preceding chapters and read this one. I rate this chapter 5 stars.

Chapter 10 is called Snake Oil and Rolodexes. It seems to be about rust prevention products and the managers who stock them at big box warehouse stores like Home Depot. Huh? What? Rating: 1 star.

Chapter 11 is called the Future.

I have tried to point out how uneven this book is. Some chapters are indeed worthwhile, others are obvious filler. Don't buy the book, just get it out of the library like I did and read the chapters that are interesting.