Sparkling debut from adventuresome journalist Zoellner, who traveled the world to tell the dirty, glorious and sometime bloody story of diamonds.
When his fiancée returned her engagement ring, the author’s disappointment led to a meditation about the stone it held. Where do diamonds come from? His account of journeys undertaken to answer that question suggests it’s better not to know. From mining to manufacturing, trading to smuggling, marketing to purchasing, it’s difficult to find a single stage in a diamond’s provenance not riven with exploitation, deceit, suffering or delusion. The hardest substance found in nature, a girl’s best friend, the jewel in any potentate’s crown, an essential accoutrement of today’s rapper, diamonds have historically exerted a fascination and power out of proportion to their scarcity (they’re not particularly rare) or intrinsic worth. Zoellner explores how we pour our values—for a variety of reasons economic and romantic—into these glittering rocks. First excavated in India, diamond deposits have since been discovered in South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Angola, even Arkansas. With on-the-spot reporting from each of these locales and detailed portraits of individuals whose lives have been shaped by the quest for and business of diamonds, Zoellner follows a tortured trail all the way to the ring finger of an expectant bride. En route, he offers fascinating details about the geology, craftsmanship, advertising, economics and politics surrounding the gems. Looming over the tale is the specter of De Beers, the giant cartel whose long, ruthless grip on the industry has only just begun to loosen as a result of newfound natural deposits and increasing competition from makers of synthetic diamonds. Perhaps all those sordid details he acquired helped Zoellner, four years after his heartbreak, finally decide to sell back his engagement ring to a jeweler.
Lives up in every way to the power of its almost magical subject.