Kurin has fashioned a well-written “biography” of a rock more interesting than most people.




A rich cultural history of the Hope diamond, neither the most precious nor the largest gem in the world, but arguably the most storied.

For a traveling exhibit marking the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian, curators were free to choose from any of the 140 million items owned by the Institute except for three: the too fragile “Star-Spangled Banner” and Wright Brothers flyer, and the too-valuable Hope diamond. The gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier first acquired the large, rough-cut, heart-shaped blue stone in 17th-century Golconda, the center of India’s diamond trade. Sold to Louis XIV and re-cut and reshaped by the court jeweler, the gem became known as the French Blue. Stolen along with other Crown Jewels in the wake of the French Revolution, a cut-down version of the Blue later emerged in the possession of George IV of Great Britain. At the profligate King’s death, banking heir Henry Philip Hope purchased it. It was twice sold before the Cartier Brothers acquired the diamond in 1910, and, in an inspired piece of salesmanship, created the legend of the “cursed” Hope diamond. Just the thing for credulous and incredibly wealthy Washington socialites Ned and Evalyn McLean, the new owners who do indeed suffer some unusual ill fortune, thereby perpetuating the Cartier concocted fiction. Nearly 40 years later, Harry Winston bought the stone and donated it in 1958 to the Smithsonian. Kurin, an Institution director, meticulously traces the diamond’s provenance and weaves in fascinating stories about celebrated satellite figures—Marie Antoinette, Georges-Jacques Danton, the Duke of Brunswick, Napoleon, Queen Caroline of England, Wilkie Collins, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan—who were touched by or contributed to the jewel’s legend. The author also discusses the geological processes that create diamonds, the methods by which they’ve been mined, cleaved, cut, fashioned, weighed and rated, and their shifting cultural significance through the ages.

Kurin has fashioned a well-written “biography” of a rock more interesting than most people.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-087351-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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