Bergstein’s book is an informative, well-written, and entertaining window onto another way of life.

BRILLIANCE AND FIRE

A BIOGRAPHY OF DIAMONDS

Bergstein (Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, 2012) provides a history of diamond mining and marketing that reveals the deadly world behind this magical stone.

Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) must get the credit and blame for cornering the modern-day market when diamonds were discovered in South Africa. After absorbing the Kimberley Mine, Rhodes dominated every aspect of the diamond industry, from mining to distribution to marketing. He bought up and bought out others, and when diamonds were found in Tanzania, Botswana, Lesotho and off the coast of Namibia, he controlled them, as well. His business plan was to control output and stockpile stones to ensure the rarity of the gems and raise prices. He had a complete monopoly by 1888, and his company became De Beers. Rhodes was the prime minister of the Cape Colony, founder of Rhodesia, and the author of the injustices of apartheid. In addition to this history, Bergstein has great fun exploring the customers for these diamonds, whether they were royalty, Hollywood stars, or rappers. Probably the most interesting part of the book deals with the jewelers and the crafters who knew their customers and invented new ways to adorn them. The great designers—Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston, and Bulgari—often took chances, and they paid off. De Beers’ best move came in 1938 when they hired N.W. Ayer & Son to advertise their product: the company came up with the idea of diamond engagement rings and the slogan “a diamond is forever.” De Beers couldn’t control the market forever, however, and soon the Japanese, the Australians, and the Canadians were nibbling away. Competition, the advent of synthetic and imitation diamonds, and the conflict (or blood) diamond crisis all play a part in this fascinating story, well told by the author.

Bergstein’s book is an informative, well-written, and entertaining window onto another way of life.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-232377-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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