#BookReview: Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara

Shocking. In the West, we’re somewhat aware of the horrible conditions African diamond miners face. We’ve at least heard of this, including the trivia fact of the deepest mine in the world being a diamond mine somewhere on the continent there. And despite diamonds’ wide spread use (well beyond the bling so many associate with them, by some stats that is actually one of the more *rare* uses for them, apparently). many don’t really think of this too much.

But our cellphones? Our tablets? Our state of the art electric vehicles? Our “commitment to zero carbon by [insert year]” climate activism? Our ESG corporate policies?

All of these are impacted by the travails Kara uncovers in this biting expose of the Congolese Cobalt mining operations and specifically just how horrid and unsafe the conditions therein are, including the rampant and untracked use of child labor. Here, Kara takes us on an undercover journey from one of the of the region to the other, while protecting his sources as much as possible. It is an alarming look, one that the heads and other decision makers in many of the world’s largest corporations and manufacturers need to read and examine the issues it raises in further detail based on this reporting. Even if Elon Musk (Tesla), Akio Toyoda (Toyota), Mary Barra (GM), and Oliver Blume (Volkswagen) won’t look into this, perhaps global banking, as part of its own ESG and Zero Carbon initiatives, could look into it from their end and begin to influence the car manufacturers from that side.

In a book full of unimaginable pain and sorrow, a few tales stick out. One of them in particular is that of a man who was injured in the mine, and thus his teenage son was forced to work in the mine for the family’s subsistence. Just a week before this father could go back to work, word came from the mine of a collapse. His son died in that collapse and the body remains buried within the mine. Prepare yourself, reader. As illuminating as this text is, stories at least that bad pepper this text like sand on a beach.

The only reason for the single star deduction? Possibly due to the text being primarily Kara’s own investigations, the bibliography here is quite scant indeed, clocking in at barely 8% of the overall text when 20-30% is much more common in my experience with other nonfiction advance reader copies.

Overall this is absolutely a book that needs to be read as widely as possible, and one that needs as much attention brought to its issues as possible. Very much recommended.

This review of Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Driven by Alex Davies

[UPDATE January 6, 2021]
I originally wrote the below post around Easter 2020 or so. At the time, this book was supposed to release in June 2020. Then, thanks to COVID, it got pushed to January 5, 2021. Where it was still going to be a Featured New Release post. Then I came in to actually publish that post and found out that the book’s release had been pushed back *again* to February 1, 2021. Where I already had another book ready for that week’s Featured New Release slot. So now I present a bit more verbose “standard” review than normal, thanks to this particular history.

I also want to note that in the intervening time, I’ve considered this book more and more – and I believe I’ve actually created a plan that can fully automate global logistics from the factory all the way to the retail shelf and/ or delivery to the end user’s location. But I don’t have the mechanical engineering background to allow me to build the physical machines to pull this off. However, I *am* a professional programmer, and I would love to work in this space solving that particular problem. So if anyone that is actually working in this field sees this review and is willing to at least talk to me about my ideas… you can find my contact information in the About page above. ๐Ÿ˜€

And now on to the original writeup ๐Ÿ˜€

As I note below in the Goodreads/ Amazon review, I happen to be a professional software developer in “real” life, and I’ve been in the field since 2007 – right around when the effort Davies chronicles here was switching from a DARPA pipe dream to serious efforts driven by some of the biggest corporations on the planet – Google, Ford, and GM among them. I’ve personally built a few systems to automate some business processes, and as of this writing (Easter 2020) am actively involved in automating some systems related to credit card processing. So nothing anywhere near as complex as creating an autonomous car, but enough to have a degree of insight most other book reviewers won’t have.

Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of this book. With so many nonfiction books, there is almost always some quibble or another, some minute chink that makes it only “very good” rather than damn near transcendental. This book, a debut, has no such chink. It is a stunning 8k portrait of the entire field, from its roots all the way through its current challenges that will be barely six months old at the time of initial publication. If you want to see where the push for self driving cars began, where it currently is, and where the major players hope to take it, reading this book will provide all of that information and provide it in absolute clarity for any reader, no matter their level of technical knowledge.

From the looks at DARPA and its original impetus for attempting to find a solution to this problem to the ongoing profiles of so many of the early pioneers – up to and including the August 2019 arrest of one of them for matters related to this tale – this book gives the complete picture and doesn’t seem to pull any punches in doing so. It highlights so many of the various technical challenges from sensing to actual mechanical issues to even high level philosophical arguments about how best to proceed, and explains each in such a way that most anyone can understand the basics of the issues.

So stop reading this review and go buy the dang book already. ๐Ÿ˜‰

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “#BookReview: Driven by Alex Davies”