Concrete, in its various forms, has been around since the Egyptians, but no civilization has rendered it as well as the Romans. Even with 20th-century advancements in the field of chemistry, our concrete buildings are crumbling while Rome's have lasted over 2,000 years. In Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material, author Robert Courland follows the concretization of the world from Roman times onward. Today, 40 tons of concrete currently exist for every person on the planet. Without this magic material, we'd only have short, brick-walled steel-frame skyscrapers and no Fallingwater, Guggenheim Museum, or Sydney Opera House. • $26; Prometheus Books, November 2011