While reporting The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization, award-winning journalist Vince Beiser traveled the globe. Trips to sculpt his account of this vital resource took him to places such as India, where so-called sand mafias murder for the illegally sourced commodity, and China, where miners extract immense amounts of it to satisfy the country’s voracious appetite for concrete. But one tale ultimately couldn’t be told in full in the book, due out in August. So instead of leaving it at that, Beiser, who started his career as a correspondent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, transformed the life of desert explorer, dune expert, and World War II veteran Ralph Alger Bagnold into a feature for PopSci. The historical figure’s gritty story begins on page 78.