The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age


Our future hinges on a set of rare metals that few of us have even heard of. In this eye-opening book, a natural resource strategist reveals the critical importance of these transformative elements to our technological lifestyle and the consequences of our reliance upon them, including geopolitical instability and environmental degradation.

To see our growing dependency, you need only look at your smartphone: cerium buffs the glass; indium allows your screen to respond to touch; terbium makes images more vibrant; and lithium helps it store energy. Abraham provides readers with a front-row seat to the life of these metals, tracing the paths of these high-tech elements through a dozen countries from the mine to our pockets.

But it’s not just smartphones that rely on these metals; they are the building blocks of modern society because they are critical for nearly all our electronic, military, and “green” technologies. Just as oil, iron, and bronze revolutionized previous eras, so too will these metals. The challenges this book reveals, and the plans it proposes, make it essential reading for our rare metal age.


North American publisher: Yale University Press (October 2015)

Foreign rights sold: Korea (Donga)

Foreign rights contact: Joseph Calamia (

Film/TV rights contact: Gillian MacKenzie (


"A thought-provoking book. Using vivid detail, he injects life and purpose into the story of elements. He persuasively explains the danger of underestimating a business that...plays a critical role in systems worth about $4 trillion."—The Economist

"A remarkable book that genuinely changes how one views such objects as the iMac I am typing this review on...extremely engaging."—Literary Review (UK)  Michael Burleigh

“In The Elements of Power, David Abraham explores a phenomena essential to our everyday lives and our future, but rarely studied or understood in the context of global policy or daily life. This is a book not just for specialists but also for those who are trying to chart a sustainable future for the world.”—Christie Todd Whitman, 50th governor of New Jersey, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

“Abraham deftly explains why the age of technology is also the age of rare metals—and what that could mean for the world. This book lays the groundwork for an important discussion we need to have.”—Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, and author of Every Nation for Itself 

“For those of us who marvel at hybrid cars, smartphones, and wind turbines, but don't really know where indium, europium, and tantalum come from, an uneasy feeling is beginning to gnaw. In this extraordinary book, Abraham shows that the countries that control rare metals will control the future. His exhaustive research and vivid explanations are alarming and compelling.”—Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane, former National Security Advisor and cofounder of the United States Energy Security Council

“With intelligence and nuance, Abraham sounds the alarm and brings attention to a coming resource conundrum. We are entering an age when the need for mere grams of obscure-sounding metals will have vast geopolitical consequences.”—James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and Supreme Allied Commander, NATO (2009 to 2013)

"Extraordinary...Although I've written extensively about modern mining and its consequences, I've never read anything that approaches the comprehensive expertise of The Elements of Power...Abraham's reporting deserves special praise."—Pacific Standard (Tim Heffernan) 

“David Abraham makes a complex, hidden but important subject both accessible and fascinating. Combining first-hand accounts with global statistics, he portrays the full picture of rare metals. His warnings and recommendations deserve our attention.”—Dennis Blair, Former Director of National Intelligence

“A compelling, illuminating, and hugely important analysis...a brilliant discussion of what we need to do in the coming ‘Rare Metal Age’.”—General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army (Ret.), Chairman, KKR Global Institute

"Compelling...The Elements of Power makes a green case for rare metals... His passion for rare metals is genuine, and can be inspiring."—The New Scientist 

"[A] Fascinating and important book"—The Times (UK)

“Fast-paced…It succeeds in welcoming readers of any background to the otherwise impenetrable conversations about rare metal politics...[which] could scarcely be relayed more engagingly”— Royal Society of Chemistry, Chemistry World