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Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession

by Matthew Hart

Like hard, everlasting roses, there are hundreds of shades of red diamonds alone, from “water” pink to vivid red. As Matthew Hart’s Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession skillfully recounts, gemstone diamonds inhabit a diffuse, subtle palette of hues, as well as displaying such values as weight, shape, and clarity. Similarly, any book that covers the storied history of diamonds will have its own gleam and character, low on some qualities and high on others.

Diamond begins with the recent discovery of a “large pink” in a Brazilian riverbed. The find sends miners, dealers, consultants, and investors into a frenzy over a paper packet, the contents of which cause economic and aesthetic ripples as far away as Toronto, Johannesburg, and London. The book then moves through various aspects of diamond lore – the significance of legend in the value of a diamond; the chain of ownership from mine shaft to display case – and on to science, entrepreneurism, and corporate tectonic shifts in the vast diamond trade empires of India, Brazil, and Africa. There is also the sheer romance of the whole enterprise, deftly conveyed in the sections on the spoils of queens and the booty of thieves.

Hart wisely avoids those aspects of diamonds that long ago lost their lustre – thankfully, we’re spared zircon-like insights into Marilyn Monroe movies – and instead brings passion and thoroughness to such unlikely dramas as the role of helicopters in Northern Canadian mineral exploration and the contemporary pressures on the hermetic, overlord-like De Beers cartel.

But straying from the mine face can be a tricky business, particularly when it comes to the links between the diamond industry and official corruption. Hart’s considerable political insights into the diamond trade sometimes fail by omission – for example, during a discussion of the role of diamond profits in the agonies of Sierra Leone, readers may wonder why Hart omits a wider look at the century-long exploitation of black African workers in the mines. Still, there’s more than enough fire and ice in Diamond to satisfy the connoisseur in all of us.