A picaresque story of diamond-hunting in the Barrens of the Canadian Arctic, liberally fleshed out with the global history of diamonds.
“If there is one thing Americans and Canadians both love,” says science journalist Krajick, “it is the idea of the one-mule prospector heading out to find the mother lode.” Well, then, they ought to love this tale of two seat-of-the-pants diamond prospectors. Chuck Fipke and Stew Blusson, armed with their geological knowledge of indicator minerals that predict a hot diamond pipe—the column of gem-bearing igneous rock—have been hunting up likely diamond lodes for the past couple decades. Theirs is not the kind of Eureka! story that would make good Hollywood material; rather, it’s a slow gathering of samples to support a more extensive test drilling—but it comes laden with a fair measure of skullduggery and claim-jumping, wild helicopter rides, black doings by De Beers to maintain their near-monopoly, and a push into increasingly remote Arctic landscapes: the treeless land of caribou, grizzly bears, badgers, and blackflies, which at their height “entered mouths and nostrils in such quantities that the men sometimes gagged.” Worked into their story is an adequately detailed history of diamond-mining, spanning India to South Africa to Arkansas, including some of the great hoaxes and stories of treachery and madness that follow fast upon the stone. Mostly it’s the thrill of the chase to establish and stake a claim, perhaps most of all to get that first glimpse of a pipe, with all the promise it holds.
Stew and Chuck are classics: Their fortunes rise and fall, they end their friendship and start it up again, their families fall apart—but they never waver in their infatuation with crystallized carbon. (maps)