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Throughout history, precious stones have inspired passions and poetry, quests and curses, sacred writings and unsacred actions. In this scintillating book, journalist Victoria Finlay embarks on her own globe-circling search for the real stories behind some of the gems we prize most. Blending adventure travel, geology, exciting new research, and her own irresistible charm, Throughout history, precious stones have inspired passions and poetry, quests and curses, sacred writings and unsacred actions. In this scintillating book, journalist Victoria Finlay embarks on her own globe-circling search for the real stories behind some of the gems we prize most. Blending adventure travel, geology, exciting new research, and her own irresistible charm, Finlay has fashioned a treasure hunt for some of the most valuable, glamorous, and mysterious substances on earth. With the same intense curiosity and narrative flair she displayed in her widely-praised book Color, Finlay journeys from the underground opal churches of outback Australia to the once pearl-rich rivers of Scotland; from the peridot mines on an Apache reservation in Arizona to the remote ruby mines in the mountains of northern Burma. She risks confronting scorpions to crawl through Cleopatra’s long-deserted emerald mines, tries her hand at gem cutting in the dusty Sri Lankan city where Marco Polo bartered for sapphires, and investigates a rumor that fifty years ago most of the world’s amber was mined by prisoners in a Soviet gulag. Jewels is a unique and often exhilarating voyage through history, across cultures, deep into the earth’s mantle, and up to the glittering heights of fame, power, and wealth. From the fabled curse of the Hope Diamond, to the disturbing truths about how pearls are cultured, to the peasants who were once executed for carrying amber to the centuries-old quest by magicians and scientists to make a perfect diamond, Jewels tells dazzling stories with a wonderment and brilliance truly worthy of its subjects. From the Hardcover edition.


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Throughout history, precious stones have inspired passions and poetry, quests and curses, sacred writings and unsacred actions. In this scintillating book, journalist Victoria Finlay embarks on her own globe-circling search for the real stories behind some of the gems we prize most. Blending adventure travel, geology, exciting new research, and her own irresistible charm, Throughout history, precious stones have inspired passions and poetry, quests and curses, sacred writings and unsacred actions. In this scintillating book, journalist Victoria Finlay embarks on her own globe-circling search for the real stories behind some of the gems we prize most. Blending adventure travel, geology, exciting new research, and her own irresistible charm, Finlay has fashioned a treasure hunt for some of the most valuable, glamorous, and mysterious substances on earth. With the same intense curiosity and narrative flair she displayed in her widely-praised book Color, Finlay journeys from the underground opal churches of outback Australia to the once pearl-rich rivers of Scotland; from the peridot mines on an Apache reservation in Arizona to the remote ruby mines in the mountains of northern Burma. She risks confronting scorpions to crawl through Cleopatra’s long-deserted emerald mines, tries her hand at gem cutting in the dusty Sri Lankan city where Marco Polo bartered for sapphires, and investigates a rumor that fifty years ago most of the world’s amber was mined by prisoners in a Soviet gulag. Jewels is a unique and often exhilarating voyage through history, across cultures, deep into the earth’s mantle, and up to the glittering heights of fame, power, and wealth. From the fabled curse of the Hope Diamond, to the disturbing truths about how pearls are cultured, to the peasants who were once executed for carrying amber to the centuries-old quest by magicians and scientists to make a perfect diamond, Jewels tells dazzling stories with a wonderment and brilliance truly worthy of its subjects. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Jewels: A Secret History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    "In the course of my research I found that although, of course, some rare stones have amazing and frightening dynastic tales, every jewel, however small or flawed, has its story: about the earth that was excavated to retrieve it, the families who depended on it, the people who designed the cutting method, those who bought or were given it, and the meanings and properties attributed to it. Whole human, geological, and cultural histories are wrapped up in every stone we wear or desire, even if it "In the course of my research I found that although, of course, some rare stones have amazing and frightening dynastic tales, every jewel, however small or flawed, has its story: about the earth that was excavated to retrieve it, the families who depended on it, the people who designed the cutting method, those who bought or were given it, and the meanings and properties attributed to it. Whole human, geological, and cultural histories are wrapped up in every stone we wear or desire, even if it is only an imitation. So in one way it is the stones and jewels themselves, hidden in mines and oceans - and occasionally in tombs and wrecks and pirates' hoards - that are the 'secrets' of the subtitle; the other secrets are the cultural layers of meaning and fascination that can always be found wrapped around them." Jewels always feel intensely personal. And they should be - there's really no rational reason why they're considered valuable. The value of jewels comes solely from people assigning value to them. Jewels are fundamentally useless, but we treasure them. Victoria Finlay understands this, and she approaches her history of gemstones from this direction - instead of being just a clinical, straightforward history of where and how certain gems are mined and cut, she's using this book to examine peoples' relationship with jewels, and trying to understand why they mean so much to us. Finlay's book uses Moh's Scale of Relative Hardness as an outline - the book has nine chapters, featuring jewels from softest to hardest: amber, jet, pearl, opal, peridot, emerald, sapphire, ruby, and diamond. For each, Finlay explains how the jewel was first discovered, how it's formed, where it's mined, and its relative popularity over time. There's also a lot of practical information, like how to spot a fake gem (to test if a ruby or sapphire is real, put it in your mouth - rubies and sapphires have a high thermal conductivity, so if it's real the jewel will draw heat from your tongue and feel cold). She also, while exploring the romantic attractions of jewels, doesn't lose perspective. No matter what jewel is being discussed, there's always a heavy human toll. The sad truth of the jewelry industry is that it was built on the backs of slave labor (and in many cases, continues to be supported by it) and Finlay makes sure we understand how many people suffer in the service of pretty things. The best aspect of the book is the way Finlay (a journalist) goes all-out in her research. She doesn't just tell us where the jewels are mined; she travels there and talks to the miners and the merchants. And she doesn't stop there - Finlay took spelunking lessons so she could explore Cleopatra's emerald mines, and she learned jewel-cutting in Sri Lanka. I can't even imagine how long the research for this book must have taken. It's comprehensive and engaging, and the writing is clear. The only flaw (and it's not even really a flaw) is that Finlay is very clearly a journalist, not a novelist. The chapters felt more like individual magazine articles rather than parts of a larger work, and while Finlay's narrative voice is clear and informative, it's not the most dynamic. Also there are a lot of photos from her travels scattered throughout the book, and Finlay is not much of a photographer - most of the pictures look like the photos of your aunt's last vacation to Orlando. The diamond chapter was probably my favorite, for three reasons: first, Finlay myth-busts the hell out of the legend of the Hope diamond (short version: the concept of the curse was made up to get people interested). Second,she dredges up all of the diamond industry's dirty little secrets (diamonds are common as dirt and have absolutely no resell value, plus the De Beers company owns literally all the diamond mines, so they can charge however much they feel like). And finally, I loved this chapter because it taught me that there's a company that can create lab diamonds from human ashes. That's equally morbid and amazing, and now I'm going around asking everyone I know - would you wear a diamond made from the ashes of a loved one?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kam

    A couple of years ago, my aunt went into a jewelry phase. She began to take interest in not just precious gems, but in semiprecious stones, primarily because some of them were reputed to have special properties for healing and protection. She then got my mother into it, and for a while they shopped without my knowledge, mostly because I had work at the time, and moreover was more inclined to put money away than spend it. But during one summer, I started accompanying my mother on her trips with m A couple of years ago, my aunt went into a jewelry phase. She began to take interest in not just precious gems, but in semiprecious stones, primarily because some of them were reputed to have special properties for healing and protection. She then got my mother into it, and for a while they shopped without my knowledge, mostly because I had work at the time, and moreover was more inclined to put money away than spend it. But during one summer, I started accompanying my mother on her trips with my aunt while they went jewelry shopping, and that was when I - and they - realized that I had a real knack for figuring out real stones from fake ones. I attribute this to a passing interest in mineralogy while growing up, but more to the rather sensible idea (one that neither my aunt nor my mother knew at the time) that real gemstones feel cold to the touch, and generally feel heavier in the hand than a similarly sized piece of glass (unless one is looking at ). But what my aunt particularly liked was that I had an "eye" for identifying the good stones from bad. I can't truly account for this in terms of previous life experience, except to say that sometimes some stones don't "look" right, while others do. Either way, my mother and aunt started taking me out to more and more trips until they themselves got the knack for it, and no longer needed me around. They still do, on occasion, especially when they want to make a special purchase and need what my aunt has teasingly called "my expert eye." As for myself, I got bitten by the same bug as they, mostly because I was a late-blooming fashionista and needed to build up a stock of accessories that suited my style. I started buying my own pieces, with my biggest purchase to date being a double strand of pearls of such a specific shade of silver-gray that all attempts by my mother, aunt, and myself to find pearls of the same color so I could have a pair of studs to match it have failed. This fascination with gemstones - whether for their purported mystical properties, for the sake of fashion and beauty, or even for their ability to convey one's status in society - is a fascination that has followed the human race almost since the very beginning of civilization, and many stories have been built around not just the stones themselves, but also where they come from and how they are made. It is these stories that Victoria Finlay relates alongside her own adventures in Jewels: A Secret History. Finlay is not a new writer to me: I read her first book Color: A Natural History of the Palette sometime last year, and while I enjoyed it, I thought it was rather uneven in its storytelling, and thought that while some chapters were interesting, others were not entirely compelling. I suppose part of this is because some colors do not interest me at all, but I also think part of the blame lies in that Color is Finlay's first book, and therefore errors in narrative flow are to be expected (or at least, that's what I've come to expect) in first efforts. Fortunately, it would appear Finlay has learned from her mistakes while writing Color, because Jewels does not seem to exhibit the same issues. In Color, Finlay used the painter's palette as an organizational tool, and takes a similar tack in Jewels, choosing to use the Mohs scale as a guide in selecting the gemstones she tackles. Going up the scale, she has: amber, jet, pearl, opal, peridot, emerald, sapphire, ruby, and diamond. Even better, she does something I don't recall her doing in Color: using a personal story to frame the many other stories she relates in her book. In the case of Jewels, she kicks it off by talking about her engagement ring, made of stones taken from a mosaic in Istanbul. I really appreciate this concept, because it gives the rest of the book something stable to hang off of, and creates a sense of proper narrative opening and closure. It also helps that the story Finlay uses is both charming and touchingly personal, which is appropriate, given how jewels are often valued for their charm and sentimental value as much as their monetary value. Finlay also does a fine job interweaving legends, superstition, history and the present of each individual stone, often traveling to their traditional sources (and sometime to new ones) in order to get a behind-the-scenes look at the industry of each individual stone. While there are parts that are touching, funny, and occasionally gruesome, many of the stories run on a similar theme: the hardships experienced by those whose main job is to get the stones out of the ground (or the ocean, in the case of pearls), and the constant possibility of collapse of some industries altogether. The story about the United Kingdom's freshwater pearl industry, in particular, is haunting in its sadness, and a potent warning about how greed and a lack of environmental concern can destroy a delicate resource and thousands of years of tradition. And then there is the threat of artificially-made gems, and treated gems. Many labs can churn out lab-created sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds (and can create specific qualities and sizes to-order); and pearls have been cultured ever since Mikimoto Kokichi first figured out how to do just that. Amber and jet can't be created artificially, but low-quality pieces of amber can be "pressed"to create larger, seemingly higher-quality chunks. Peridot is not a popular gem and so there's been no need to artificially create it, though I'm certain that if someone put their mind to it, it could be lab-created like any other crystal. As for opals, no one's quite found how to make them, either, but Finlay does meet one gentleman in Australia who thinks he's finally found a way to make artificial opals. All of this has, of course, led to a great amount of tension in the world of gemstone dealers, for whom the outcome of the natural vs. artificial debate has great repercussions upon their industry. It all boils down to prestige: the rarer a gem is, the more difficult to acquire, the more precious and, therefore, the more expensive it is. Jewelry is all about luxury and rarity and status-projection - and the moment someone figures out a way to democratize a gemstone, the entire industry is shaken to its foundations. That's what happened when Mikimoto first began culturing pearls: what used to be some of the rarest and most expensive gemstones in the world had become far more common and, therefore, far more accessible to people who would originally not have had the wealth to purchase so much as a pair of stud earrings. It is the same story with diamonds: lab-created diamonds are far more common than people think, but prices are kept artificially high by the De Beers group of companies: careful management and clever marketing have ensured that diamonds are still considered prestigious to own and wear, even if, in truth, their value is not as high as they're made out to be. But then Finlay raises an interesting question: given the problems inherent in acquiring natural stones (environmental pressures, severely underpaid workers who are constantly in danger, financing foreign wars and terrorism in the case of blood diamonds), should it not stand to reason that conscientious buyers and jewelers would choose lab-created stones? They have none of the same issues that are generally attached to natural stones; they are essentially the same as natural stones chemically speaking; and can be made to any shape, any color, and any quantity. It would seem that, in the twenty-first century, using lab-created stones wherever possible is the most logical way to go. And yet, as Finlay explains, the jewelry industry itself does not want to use artificial stones; it wants to keep on using natural stones because they have the prestige of not being "mass-produced" - and they are very good at making sure that buyers continue to believe that natural is better than artificial, when there is really very little visible difference. That Finlay raises this issue throughout the course of the book is vital, and something I appreciate. I myself fall firmly on the side of lab-creates stones, because I feel that, no matter how beautiful a natural stone is, it is only as good as the designer that uses it - and a bad designer can ruin a perfectly good stone. Also, most of the time it's impossible to tell a natural stone from a lab-created one on the surface, and in the end that's all that really matters to buyers: how pretty the stone looks. Please note, however, that Finlay doesn't force this idea on the reader, but allows him or her to come to their own conclusions. All that matters is that she's put the question out there in the first place. Overall, Jewels: A Secret History is an enjoyable, insightful read, a rich interweaving of legends, history, and present-day realities, striking a balance between all those elements and granting the reader insight into how the jewelry industry works today. Additional information is included in the form of a "Miscellany of Jewels," which includes lists of birthstones, anniversary stones, and sundry other bits and bobs of information that do not slot neatly into the rest of the book, but which might appeal to the reader regardless. Finlay's narrative style has significantly improved from her style in Color, and this shows in the way she tells the stories of the jewels themselves, turning each into a character in its own right: neither one more important than its fellow, but always with a unique quality inherent to itself that she brings out in the text. Although this will immediately appeal to jewelry fanatics and amateur mineralogists, Finlay's insight into the gemstone industry itself is something that any reader will appreciate and hopefully look into more deeply.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daren

    Quirky, informative and insightful, this book is an exploration of gems. A chapter per jewel, arranged according to their 'relative hardness' on Moh's Scale: Amber, Jet, Pearl, Opal, Peridot, Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, Diamond. There are also a few dozen pages of Finlay's Miscellany of Jewels, which includes lists of birthstones, anniversary stones, and lists of other jewel related things, as well as a thorough index, and bibliography. There are pictures - many of which are black and white and printe Quirky, informative and insightful, this book is an exploration of gems. A chapter per jewel, arranged according to their 'relative hardness' on Moh's Scale: Amber, Jet, Pearl, Opal, Peridot, Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, Diamond. There are also a few dozen pages of Finlay's Miscellany of Jewels, which includes lists of birthstones, anniversary stones, and lists of other jewel related things, as well as a thorough index, and bibliography. There are pictures - many of which are black and white and printed within the text, as well as colour plates at the centre. They add to the writing, but are not all of particularly good quality. Each chapter explores the jewels origins, history, legends and superstitions, uses, and usually some sort of quirky story or fact. It is easy reading, it is interesting, but for me, I enjoyed it because is was well structured. Small details like the chapter numbers being the value of 'hardness' on Moh's Scale, and the thorough research into how the gems are created. Some of the aspects I enjoyed were the places mentioned which I have visited - the Amber Room at the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo in Russia, Coober Pedy in central Australia (for opals), places in Sri Lanka (for sapphires), parts of Burma (for Rubies), Western Australia for pearls, and the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, which has the personal connection for the author, as the stones in her ring originated there. There are also a lot of references to books and people involved from Sinbad and Marco Polo to Cecil Rhodes and Richard Burton, and numerous kings and queens. Finlay does a great job of sharing the stories of the gems, modern science, the historical beliefs and the history (often of exploitation). She speaks to industry specialists and shares some of the details that, while perhaps are not secrets, are not widely known. One of the more interesting section was blowing apart the curse of the Hope Diamond -deaths under mysterious circumstances have been part of the mystique behind the diamond - really it was just a ploy to beat up interest. The diamond chapter also exposes the fact that De Beers basically owns all the stock of diamonds, and artificially controls the release of them onto the market to maintain the high prices. They are actually so common that they are practically worthless - or would be if they were released onto the market. Not only that, but synthetic diamonds are also readily manufactured, and for all intents and purposes impossible to detect as different from natural diamonds, except by specialist means. Finally, now that diamonds can be synthesised from carbon, one company offers to make a diamond from the ashes of a recently deceased relative - actually from the ashes - to live on in perpetuity. I suppose it is better than Keith Richards achieved with his fathers ashes - shorting a line like cocaine. So, after the education this book provides, when I am next in Thailand, Sri Lanka or India - will I entertain the opportunity to make myself rich taking stones back home to sell? Yeah - nah... I will continue to give that opportunity a miss. Four Stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    D.A.

    An indispensable exploration of the role jewels have played in human culture economically, socially, spiritually and decoratively. Finlay looks closely at 9 gems, starting with the soft organic amber, jet and pearl, ending with the heavy hitters of gemology: emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. Structurally, the book begins with gems that are formed by or within living matter. By the time we get to diamonds, we have gone oddly full circle, as Finlay introduces us to gems that may be produce An indispensable exploration of the role jewels have played in human culture economically, socially, spiritually and decoratively. Finlay looks closely at 9 gems, starting with the soft organic amber, jet and pearl, ending with the heavy hitters of gemology: emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. Structurally, the book begins with gems that are formed by or within living matter. By the time we get to diamonds, we have gone oddly full circle, as Finlay introduces us to gems that may be produced by various kinds of organic materials, from peanut butter to people. It underscores the fluctuations and volatilities that make gems so risky and alluring, as well as the larger fluctuations of matter that cause gems to form or to disappear. Finlay visits the birth mines of each stone and talks with lapidarists, jewelers, miners, and the ad hoc economies that pop up in response to a supply of desirable stones. Finlay is shrewd and funny, she gives us an adventure along each way, and she fills us with plenty of stories of great jewels that were smuggled or ransomed or purchased as a sign of power. Like her previous book "Colour," we also get to understand the cultural significance of certain colors and the powers associated with the gems. It's a bit of a romance and a travelogue, this book. Absolutely fitting for the subject: substances that have risen and fallen in value do to our fickle fashions. Well worth a second or even a third read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Victoria Finlay is a gifted storyteller. She profiles nine different jewels (pleasingly, in order of Moh's scale). She discusses the geological origin, cultural history, historical symbolism and economics of each stone, but in a way that's entirely conversational and engaging. Her book never feels like a lecture, it always feels like a story you'd hear from a fascinating, well-traveled friend over drinks. Findlay is adventurous in her quest for detail, often going I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Victoria Finlay is a gifted storyteller. She profiles nine different jewels (pleasingly, in order of Moh's scale). She discusses the geological origin, cultural history, historical symbolism and economics of each stone, but in a way that's entirely conversational and engaging. Her book never feels like a lecture, it always feels like a story you'd hear from a fascinating, well-traveled friend over drinks. Findlay is adventurous in her quest for detail, often going down (or at least considering going down) into mines you couldn't pay me to consider for a fistful of rubies. In addition to an educational read, this is a very fun book that you find yourself reluctant to put down. I would recommend this book to anyone who's even slightly interested in gems or geology, who likes wearing jewelry or knows someone who does, or is interested in the cultural and historical symbolism of these charismatic stones. In fact, I've been (probably too vehemently) recommending this to anyone I've come in contact with in the past few days. It really is a book almost everyone would enjoy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    Another well researched book by Victoria Finlay. With her books, you really have to read the preface to learn how she began her research, what's her resultant thesis, where the tale will take you. Her books are classic examples of a fully developed research project. Finlay organized her book using Mohs' scale of hardness for gemstones. She begins with the softest, amber, and ends with the hardest, diamonds. The book covers where they are found, what they are made of, some history of their popula Another well researched book by Victoria Finlay. With her books, you really have to read the preface to learn how she began her research, what's her resultant thesis, where the tale will take you. Her books are classic examples of a fully developed research project. Finlay organized her book using Mohs' scale of hardness for gemstones. She begins with the softest, amber, and ends with the hardest, diamonds. The book covers where they are found, what they are made of, some history of their popularity and the decline of their popularity. It includes myths, mysteries, and mayhem associated with the gems. I didn't know the fashion for diamonds was relatively recent. They used to be ignored because they aren't very pretty. Just like Mother's Day was an advertising campaign to sell greeting cards, diamond engagement rings were an advertising campaign to get people to buy diamonds. Before, colored stones were the popular gift. Personally, I prefer sapphires. This isn't an easy book to read, but Finlay is a very good writer and makes her subject both informative and entertaining.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    In her third book Ms. Finlay has mined historic literature for the mythology and mystique that surround gems of note; her debunking of the curse of the Hope Diamond, for instance, is hilarious. She also globetrots to the countries of a gems origin, at times literally descending into the mines. Her own anecdotal experiences become part of the scintillating, like being stalled in a taxi during an elephant parade in Sri Lanka (elephant parades are good for the sapphire business, as such a gem that In her third book Ms. Finlay has mined historic literature for the mythology and mystique that surround gems of note; her debunking of the curse of the Hope Diamond, for instance, is hilarious. She also globetrots to the countries of a gems origin, at times literally descending into the mines. Her own anecdotal experiences become part of the scintillating, like being stalled in a taxi during an elephant parade in Sri Lanka (elephant parades are good for the sapphire business, as such a gem that has been worn on an elephant tusk is believed to have been blessed by Buddha himself). She has undergone no small amount of risk on these excursions. She skillfully interviewed sometimes reticent subjects; some from within the mines, others within the marketing, trading, and gem cutting fields. The histrionic and social ramifications of our fascination for these useless rocks ("You can't eat them, you can't read them, you can't shelter under them ..." she quotes her Burmese taxi driver as saying) are on display here, as colorful and surprising as any of the gems themselves.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Meaghan

    This was a really fascinating book, each chapter telling the in-depth story of the history of each particular gemstone. I would recommend it for anyone interested in jewelry and/or microhistories. Amber, pearls, jet, peridot, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds were all covered. My only complaint would be that I wish more stones had been covered; for example amethysts or citrines or really anything in the quartz family.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I love this kind of non-fiction - is is enjoyable, readable and informative. The combination of history, science, philosophy, travelogue and memoir in this book was fantastic. It is one of the easiest ways to learn about something which could be quite dry if handled differently. I know more about jewels than I could have possibly imagined before and not one piece of it was boring.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam White

    Love this book. History and Gemmology who could find a better introduction. Also some ripping yarns thrown in. Did I say, I love this book!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Author Victoria Finlay takes the reader on a diverting rummage through the jewel box. The book is partly a travelogue and partly a micro history of the subject. It is structured in 9 chapters looking at a different type of gem in each. Broadly speaking the chapters cover the geographical sources of each featured gem, the people who mine/collect it, and the part each type of gem has played in human society, in particular how the value of particular gems has risen or fallen at different times in hu Author Victoria Finlay takes the reader on a diverting rummage through the jewel box. The book is partly a travelogue and partly a micro history of the subject. It is structured in 9 chapters looking at a different type of gem in each. Broadly speaking the chapters cover the geographical sources of each featured gem, the people who mine/collect it, and the part each type of gem has played in human society, in particular how the value of particular gems has risen or fallen at different times in human history. The author travelled widely across the world to visit the mines from which gems are sourced, frequently at considerable risk to herself. One theme that runs throughout the book is how the value of almost all gems either has been lowered or is threatened by the production of artificial versions, many of which can now only be distinguished from the natural varieties by an expert with a raft of scientific equipment. At times the author can jump to some fairly unscientific conclusions, but she is not overly afflicted with romanticism, and in one of the most enjoyable sections completely debunks the "curse" stories around the Hope Diamond. The book does not pretend to be a scholarly work, and is written very much for the general reader, but there was plenty in this that was completely new to me. At the end there are a number of appendices containing what might be unkindly described as "interesting factoids". Some of these were actually interesting, and without giving spoilers away, it was illuminating to see just what can achieved by a good marketing campaign. A book that left me pondering on the arbitrary value that humans place on objects of no practical use, and how that value has impacted on human lives over thousands of years.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    A dense read - and surprisingly more about current events than history. Each section is based on a jewel, going by the current level of value we assign them, ending, obviously, with diamonds. The narrator traveled to a lot of areas to research the current jewel industry and all of its horrors and puts in a lot of history along the way to show how we got from past to present, but personally I would have preferred a more chronological rather than subject based approach.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nine Provinces

    This one's for the geeks. Did you enjoy a recent pop culture , plain language book about gems and mining, and want to learn more? Here's the next step in your learning. Victoria Finlay put years of extensive research into this book, and takes you through the muddy mines of Sri Lanka, down claustrophobic drop-hole pits, through history, and in search of her own personal gem story in this book. I borrowed this from the library, only to renew it, and re-order it , until I finally realized I need th This one's for the geeks. Did you enjoy a recent pop culture , plain language book about gems and mining, and want to learn more? Here's the next step in your learning. Victoria Finlay put years of extensive research into this book, and takes you through the muddy mines of Sri Lanka, down claustrophobic drop-hole pits, through history, and in search of her own personal gem story in this book. I borrowed this from the library, only to renew it, and re-order it , until I finally realized I need this on my permanent bookshelf. Sorry, clutter haters! This one sparks joy. I turn to it again and again because, quite frankly, I can't believe what I've read and have to re-read it to make sure. The book is split into nine chapters, each about a different gem. And Finlay goes deep....literally dropping into one mine straight down the hatch without a ladder. This is not an overview and it's not breezy reading. It's journalism and storytelling, with a side order of decidedly not luxury travel. Sometimes I read it with my laptop open on the side, pulling up maps, photos, and searching even deeper into the topics she touches. She gives the reader a lot of credit for knowledge of geography and history. Finlay generously provides some color plates, including her own precious engagement ring. Spoiler alert: it's not a diamond solitaire, and it's not even one of the Big Three. I found it fascinating to see what an authority like Ms Finlay would choose for her own special piece. History, struggle, bloodshed, ingenuity, cruelty, nature...it's all here. You may find that your "favorite gemstone" changes after reading this book. I'm now a huge amber and jet fan. This book may not be an "easy read" because of all of the information crammed into it, but it's worth the time and so enriching.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    Once again Victoria Finlay gives us a very entertaining and informative book. In this one she takes the reader on a journey around the world to give a glimpse into the mystique of gems. She concentrates on the better known jewels like amber, pearl and emerald (to name a few), starting with those on the lower end of the Mohs softness scale and finishing, of course, with diamond. Visiting places where these gems are being mined or were previously mined she treats the reader to the history of each Once again Victoria Finlay gives us a very entertaining and informative book. In this one she takes the reader on a journey around the world to give a glimpse into the mystique of gems. She concentrates on the better known jewels like amber, pearl and emerald (to name a few), starting with those on the lower end of the Mohs softness scale and finishing, of course, with diamond. Visiting places where these gems are being mined or were previously mined she treats the reader to the history of each gem's prominence in certain periods of time, explaining the myths and beliefs of the efficacy of the precious or semi precious stones in accordance with the local cultures, telling how the jewels are mined and sometimes how the particular gem has fallen out of favor. She also delves into the greed of men that applies to almost all items that suddenly grow popular, the advertising ploys used to promote the gems (sometimes just having someone famous or well situated wear the jewel would work to the mine owners' advantage), the rushes that happen similar to gold rushes where the hopes and dreams of many are realized or broken, and the manufacturing of synthetic gems. All in all, this book is a feast of facts and interesting stories and tidbits.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Schielmann

    Informative and insightful without being dry, this one is definitely worth reading again. Not only does this book cover gemstones that would not normally be on today’s “most popular” lists, but Victoria Finlay takes you along on a journey to the actual locations where the gems were (and are) extracted, and brings alive the people who uncovered and processed them. The stories dealing with a few famous jewels are tastefully stated without resorting to the more sensational gossip of the day, and ye Informative and insightful without being dry, this one is definitely worth reading again. Not only does this book cover gemstones that would not normally be on today’s “most popular” lists, but Victoria Finlay takes you along on a journey to the actual locations where the gems were (and are) extracted, and brings alive the people who uncovered and processed them. The stories dealing with a few famous jewels are tastefully stated without resorting to the more sensational gossip of the day, and yet the book remains interesting and holds the reader’s interest throughout. There’s a true interest shown toward the personalities involved in the trade past and present, and the author includes details of her interviews and research that point to the way the product is/was viewed by individuals. Also explored is the creation of artificial stones, as well as some of the tricks used to enhance color and clarity even today, which makes you wonder why we place such a high price on our pretty baubles and marvel at how creative humans are in their quest for a shortcut to wealth.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jamie-Lee

    Summer Reading Challenge 26/27 Back to School - “Read a book about a subject you don’t know much about” Subject: Jewels I love jewels but I only really know what the mainstream ones look like and that I like how they sparkle. This book gave me a well rounded history lesson on some of the many jewels that have been popularized through some monarch or high society person. I also learned about the Moh System which tells how soft or hard a gem is and many other neat facts. Not surprisingly, these prett Summer Reading Challenge 26/27 Back to School - “Read a book about a subject you don’t know much about” Subject: Jewels I love jewels but I only really know what the mainstream ones look like and that I like how they sparkle. This book gave me a well rounded history lesson on some of the many jewels that have been popularized through some monarch or high society person. I also learned about the Moh System which tells how soft or hard a gem is and many other neat facts. Not surprisingly, these pretty sparkly things I knew relatively nothing about come with quite the sorted pasts and it made for a very interesting read. I particularly liked the chapters on Amber, Opal and Sapphire. My husband bought me this book for Christmas and I’m glad I picked it for this challenge. I ended up learning a lot more than I thought I would.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen Levi

    I gave the book 3 stars because sometimes I got lost in the details. There were sections somewhat repetitious. She kept coming back to Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and Julius Ceasar. Roman history is not my thing, but that's just me. All in all, it was an interesting read and I like the organization of the book, chapters by gem and going from soft to hard gems. I certainly feel I learned a great deal about amber, pearls, opals, peridot, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, and diamonds. I loved the intern I gave the book 3 stars because sometimes I got lost in the details. There were sections somewhat repetitious. She kept coming back to Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and Julius Ceasar. Roman history is not my thing, but that's just me. All in all, it was an interesting read and I like the organization of the book, chapters by gem and going from soft to hard gems. I certainly feel I learned a great deal about amber, pearls, opals, peridot, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, and diamonds. I loved the international travel aspect and the writer's sense of adventure and down to earth nature that is transmitted in her writing. To me, the most interesting chapters were about pearls, opals, peridots, and sapphires.

  18. 5 out of 5

    R Strange

    Admittedly I read this for professional tidbits. I would call this more of a travel book... it was easy reading though it had the feeling of compiled journal entries, and I very much imagined I was watching a BBC special while reading it. An interesting introductory text on the sources of some of the best known gems, but nothing too detailed or revealing here. I once read an entire book on Burmese jade, half of which was about road building, cannibals and fever. Of course there is always more to Admittedly I read this for professional tidbits. I would call this more of a travel book... it was easy reading though it had the feeling of compiled journal entries, and I very much imagined I was watching a BBC special while reading it. An interesting introductory text on the sources of some of the best known gems, but nothing too detailed or revealing here. I once read an entire book on Burmese jade, half of which was about road building, cannibals and fever. Of course there is always more to a story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Much like her color book, the author presents information in an entertaining way. I did think she spent an inordinate amount of the book on diamonds, and probably could have written a shorter book on diamonds and done what she wanted to do. She covered several interesting facets of other jewels, but it seemed like there were several common ones missing (e.g., amethyst) but that were included in the endnotes, so I'm not sure why they were omitted. Her color book was more comprehensive, but this bo Much like her color book, the author presents information in an entertaining way. I did think she spent an inordinate amount of the book on diamonds, and probably could have written a shorter book on diamonds and done what she wanted to do. She covered several interesting facets of other jewels, but it seemed like there were several common ones missing (e.g., amethyst) but that were included in the endnotes, so I'm not sure why they were omitted. Her color book was more comprehensive, but this book was still a fun read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Dense but well researched. An interesting look at some of the jewels humans on which humans have placed the most value over the centuries. I was hoping there would be a bit more about some of the folklore and/or mythology associated with some of the stones, and there were a few not included about which I’d have enjoyed learning, but those are my own wishes and not faults of the book. I’m sure including all of that in addition to everything else would have made it even more dense than it already Dense but well researched. An interesting look at some of the jewels humans on which humans have placed the most value over the centuries. I was hoping there would be a bit more about some of the folklore and/or mythology associated with some of the stones, and there were a few not included about which I’d have enjoyed learning, but those are my own wishes and not faults of the book. I’m sure including all of that in addition to everything else would have made it even more dense than it already was.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    Jewels: A Secret History This seemed to be the most referenced book in Stoned by Aja Raden. So I picked it up from the library as well. I'm glad I read Stoned first. I liked Raden's style of writing more than Finlay's.   Jewels is an interesting read too, I just found it a little dry. Also I wish the book had footnotes rather than notes at the back. It was annoying to have to keep flipping back and forth while reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Gilmore

    Jewels and gemstones may seem like frivolous thing to write about, but Finlay really devotes so much of this book to finding the human element to them. Jewels are the stuff of legend, myth and religion and are deeply woven into social and cultural customs. this book ranges from memoir to ethnography to historical text and it's all really delightful to read. it inspired me to wear my diamond and sapphire pendant that bad been on the shelf for years

  23. 5 out of 5

    K.F.

    Interesting and satisfying Definitely one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in 5e last two years. Educational, engrossing, and eye opening. I never want to ever receive a diamond again, and I’m not sure how I feel about pearls. Leaves the reader questioning why jewelry is ever valued at all, to be honest. But I love Victoria Findlayson as an author and can’t wait to see what her next research project will be. Maybe fruit? Candy? Fabric?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vanessadoes

    way too dark and depressing for me. there was lots of interesting science but in the culture and history departments the author seemed to gravitate towards the most occult, creepy, depressing things possible rather than what she purports the book to be in the introduction, a celebration of the beauty and rich poetic symbolism held by gemstones. it felt like reading the inquirer.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    My wife got this from the library, and I decided to read it, too. Very engaging and readable style, quite well-written, telling the stories of various gems from how they came to be valued to where and how they are mined or obtained. Really cool stuff, and possibly useful to anyone with an interest in writing fantasy fiction or RPGs.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Stanton

    I am a fan of narrative non-fiction. I love exploring the obscure byways of knowledge and this book promised so much. In the end, I just got bored. I loved the idea, but the execution was ordinary. Too much labouring over the descriptions and words. The author's other book on Colour was much better written.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    This book was very well written. The author made personal journeys to find out what she could about each stone profiled and met many interesting people along the way. Gem mining is a cruel world--I will never look at diamonds and rubies in the same way.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    Amazing, interesting read! This book caught me by surprise. I was expecting a dry tome on gems. This was a fascinating walk through the history, geography and stories of the major stones we like to wear. Easy to read and understand for a layman. Be sure to tap the little blue numbers as there is a lot of fascinating info hidden there also. This author really knows her stuff and, more importantly, knows how to tell a good story! Very highly recommend!!!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    A little too precious and "othering" of the lives of those not English, this was still a delightful book of miscellaneous information about gems arranged by hardness scale. She also combines travel to some amazing place. All in all, very good read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    How do we find jewels? What are the stories and legends behind jewels? What constitutes a jewel. This book brilliantly anwers all these questions and so much more. Even if you have no interest in jewels read the book. You will learn so, so much.

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