This is good stuff:

Arriving in a developing nation with his iPad and his enigmatic smile, Hannam personifies the soft side of Western power. He doesn’t bend people to his will with weapons or threats. But there is no mistaking the dealmaker’s impact: In his wake, mountains are razed, villages electrified, schools built, and fortunes made.

This is something of an adventure story. It’s got, mountain caravans, snowy plane crashes, a war-torn land, and a history of how Afghanistan’s mineral riches have gone unexploited for nearly two centuries. One big reason: There’s hardly any infrastructure. The history is good here:

But if the risks are absurd, the potential rewards are off the charts. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of iron, copper, rare earth metals, and, yes, gold are buried beneath Afghanistan’s deserts and mountains. This wealth has lain there mainly undisturbed for thousands of years as armies of Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Britons, Russians, and now Americans tramped above. Invaders have dreamed of exploiting it since the time of Alexander the Great, but no one has yet succeeded on a large scale.

In an 1841 article in a journal of Asiatic studies, Capt. Henry Drummond, a member of the British 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, described his rambles through the wildest parts of Afghanistan to conduct the first Western mineral survey of the country. He found “abundant green stains” of copper, some of which rivaled the deposits of Chile, and veins of iron ore that “might no doubt be obtained equal to the Swedish.” While many of his countrymen viewed Afghanistan as an untamable place, where a man could not stray many yards from his home or tent without risk of being murdered, Drummond was smitten. Mining, he felt — not the gun — offered the best hope to pacify the territory and win over Afghans.

It’s a good look at, as Fortune calls it, “frontier capitalism.” Or as some might put it: late-stage American imperialism.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.