For most of recorded history, copper has proven invaluable: not only did the ancient Romans build their empire on mining copper but Christopher Columbus protected his ships from rot by lining their hulls with it. Today, this pliable and sturdy metal can be found in every house, car, airplane, cell phone, computer, and home appliance across the globe. Yet the history of copper extraction and our present relationship with the metal are fraught with profound difficulties. Copper mining causes irrevocable damage to the Earth, and the mines themselves have significant effects on the economies and wellbeing of the communities where they are located.

Starting in his own backyard in the old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona-where he discovers that the dirt in his garden contains double the acceptable level of arsenic-Bill Carter follows the story of copper to the controversial Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia; to the "ring" at the London Metal Exchange, where a select group of traders buy and sell enormous amounts of the metal; and to an Alaskan salmon run threatened by mining. Page by page, Carter blends the personal and the international in a narrative that helps us understand the paradoxical relationship we have with copper, and the result is a work of first-rate journalism that fascinates on every level.