THE LAST EMPIRE by Stefan Kanfer


De Beers, Diamonds, and the World
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 From veteran Time editor Kanfer (A Summer World, 1989, etc.): an enjoyable history of De Beers, the great business empire that founded a country, helped start a war, and funded the legendary Rhodes scholarships. Kanfer begins with the discovery, in 1867, of the first diamond in South Africa, found by a farm boy who noticed ``in the glare of the sun a glittering pebble.'' That pebble was the first of a great mother lode of diamonds to be found in this arid area of South Africa along the Orange River and, later--to the great relief of investors--buried deep in the ground in pipes of ancient rock. The Kimberley diamond fields attracted adventurers, failures, and a slew of ambitious men: young Jews from the London slums, like Solly Joel and the great Barney Barnato; Albert Beit, from Germany; and, of course, Cecil Rhodes, the clergyman's son who dreamed of making the continent British from the Cape to Cairo. Kanfer describes how these men formed the holdings that--named after the owners of a farm on which a rich lode was discovered--became De Beers. In time, the old guard was taken over by Ernest Oppenheimer, an ambitious young Englishman who survived anti-Semitism, the obstructions of rivals, even a shipwreck, to found--with the help of American capital--the Anglo American Corporation, which he used to buy De Beers, turning it into a powerful cartel that today controls the worldwide sale of diamonds. Kanfer not only details the Oppenheimers' rise to fame and fortune, their often brilliant tactics to safeguard their empire (not the least being the slogan ``a diamond is forever''), and the relevant historical background, but he also speculates on a future threatened by turmoil in South Africa, smuggling in Angola, disruption in Russia, and a global recession. Timely corporate history--as exciting and poignant as any good tale of derring-do against great odds by all-too-flawed giants. (Forty photographs)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-15207-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993


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