Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman is just what the title promises: A history of our war against rust. In each chapter, Waldman writes about an aspect of the war and profiles the individuals who deal with rust on a daily basis. Chapters subjects include the restoration of the extremely rusty Statue of Liberty, an artist who photographs rust, the invention of stainless steel, the difficulty of preventing—or failing that, detecting—rust in oil pipelines, LeVar Burton’s involvement in Department of Defense educational shows about rust, and more.
Rust is one of the unexpected books dealing with little-discussed topics and providing a new view of the world. The spread of the book is admirable, and Waldman digs out some unexpected facts and people who make it their life’s work. His chapter on the rusting and restoration of the Statue of Liberty is fascinating; there was so much that went wrong for so many reasons that it required a great deal of ingenuity to set things right. The time he spends with Alyssha Eve Csuk as she takes her photographs is another strong piece: Who knew rust could be beautiful? And it turns out that can manufacturing is complicated beyond belief.
Not every chapter is as focused, however, making the book an uneven read. The constant war the department of defense fights against rust is revealing, and the steps taken to make everyone recognize the significance of the fight are mind-boggling, as is the staggering amount of money saved. Dan Dunmire, who is in charge of this fight, is a colorful figure in his own right. But, the chapter bogs down in a blow by blow account of LeVar Burton’s narration, complete with quotations from the show. Waldman, by the way, seems quite bemused by Dunmire’s love of Star Trek, coming back to it more than once. Other chapters also contain information that is interesting in itself but that does not quite merit the extreme detail of the accounts given.
Overall, Rust reveals a number of unexpected facets of corrosion and will certainly make you look more closely at a common phenomenon. It might even lead to some more care of things like garden tools and bike chains.
Rust: The Longest War came out March 10, 2015 from Simon & Schuster.