The fortunes--and misfortunes--of the jewel hunters provide enough intrigue for a shelf of thrillers, but there's not enough sustained narrative here to keep the reader on the scent: the stories are so brief that the drama doesn't have time to develop. The long history of diamonds, from the Kohinoor to corporate control in South Africa, is studded with statistics of dates, carats and dollars. Later sections are somewhat livelier and less fragmented: a succession of characters--sometimes thieves and swindlers--replaces commerce as the focus of interest. There is Boston Harry, the mystery man whose daughter spurned a priceless, perfectly matched pearl necklace; there is Kornitzer, the jewel trader who returned from an infected area of Canton and sterilized himself and his jade in six bottles of whiskey. The tales of the traders extend to Ceylon, ""where jewels were so common that the ordinary people wore them in their daily dress;"" to Peru, where the lost Inca treasure of emeralds is still hidden; to Siam for sapphires, to the American Southwest for turquoise, etc., etc. It's a long, long trail, and much of the way you can't see the diamonds for the dust.