Rare Mettle is Ann Bridges' sequel to debut Silicon Valley novel Private Offerings (B7, 2015), and presents a no-holds barred depiction of a modern-day reality: America's reliance on China's processing of a core ingredient for high-tech devices and state-of-the-art military weaponry. When the supply of rare earth is deliberately halted, economic chaos ensues, igniting a race to take back control, led by a monumental collaboration of unlikely partners-high-tech innovators and covert government agents-the only parties who realize the lethal potential of this new world order.
But here's where I depart from my normal review pattern. I want to quote Ann's AUTHOR'S NOTE at the end of the book. Although it has one small spoiler alert, it will not affect your reading/enjoyment of the book. Ann says:
In 2010, China did indeed threaten Japan with its lock on purified rare metals, in retaliation for a territorial dispute, later resolved. In the meantime, commodity prices for various rare earth elements shot up in the worldwide marketplace. While American politicians discussed the implications on our economy long-term and ordered the Pentagon to come up with solutions, they failed to make any policy changes. And Silicon Valley companies, while concerned, continue their dependence on these purified minerals, with no better alternative.
Once again, Ann has given us a book with her unique knowledge of world affairs as they relate to both Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. How often do we get to read an insider's viewpoint while still being entertained? Barry Eisler did it recently with The God's Eye View. But, still, it doesn't happen very often.
Did you guys see the movie The Big Short? If you did, then you all know that you had to pay close attention to what was happening in order to understand it. The same is true with Rare Mettle. It's not confusing or dense. But you need to stay somewhat focused in order to fully appreciate what is happening in the rare metal world. And that's a good thing. It's no fun to feel like a book (movie, TV show, lecture, et al) has been "dumbed down." Better that we should follow along and learn something. Well, if you do that here, you will learn a lot. I guarantee that.
There are some passages in the book that really resonated with me. Here's one of my favorites:
"...War has always been a violent tilt towards a new economic equilibrium. What we're experiencing today is a radical evolution instead, and the Pentagon's career bureaucrats are unwilling to accept this new reality. It's just like boiling frogs-raise the heat slowly, and they never realize the danger they're in until they're too lethargic to jump free."
And how about this one:
"Paul swallowed back the guilty acid that bubbled like a science experiment in his belly."
Did you feel that?
And, of course, I can't get through a review without bringing in some personal elements:
1. The Peter Principle was mentioned. Of course that was a popular saying quite a few years ago. I hadn't heard it in a while. If you don't know what it is, look it up. It's a pretty right-on expression.
2. There is a reference to a taiko drum. I had never heard of that until about 4 months ago. It turns out that a new friend of mine plays one. I got to see her and her group play live in a concert. It's very cool.
3. One of the ancillary characters in the book is Gideon Weinberg. One of my mom's sisters married a Weinberg. I still have a male cousin with that last name. It's just not a name you see very often.
If you want to learn about this very real worldwide issue from someone who knows what she's talking about, then Rare Mettle is for you.
P.S. How great is the title? Very clever, don't you think?