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From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine. "A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagin From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine. "A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagination as symbols of royalty, stars, and eternal love? But who gave us this catchphrase? Where do these gemstones and their colorful legacies originate? How did they become our culture’s symbol of engagement and marriage? Why have they retained their coveted status throughout the centuries? Rachelle Bergstein’s cultural biography of the diamond illuminates the enticing, often surprising, story of our society’s enduring obsession with the hardest gemstone—and the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure their continued allure. From the South African mines where most diamonds have been sourced since the late 1890s to the companies who have fought to monopolize them; from the stars who have dazzled in them to the people behind the scenes who have carefully crafted our understanding of their value—Brilliance and Fire offers a glittering history of the world’s most coveted gemstone and its greatest champions and most colorful enthusiasts. Illustrated with sixteen pages of color photographs, this “biography” is filled with tantalizing anecdotes of the likes of Wallis Simpson, for whom Cartier created their iconic diamond-encrusted panther bracelet; Elizabeth Taylor, who made her numerous lovers prove their adoration through the gems they bestowed upon her; and “Jacob the Jeweler” and Ben Baller, the edgy contemporary jewelers who create custom bling for hip-hop stars from Jay-Z to Kanye. Smart, lively, and engaging, Brilliance and Fire is as dazzling as the very diamonds Bergstein reveals in a new light.


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From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine. "A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagin From the author of Women from the Ankle Down comes a lively cultural biography of diamonds, which explores our society’s obsession with the world’s most brilliant gemstone and the real-world characters who make them shine. "A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagination as symbols of royalty, stars, and eternal love? But who gave us this catchphrase? Where do these gemstones and their colorful legacies originate? How did they become our culture’s symbol of engagement and marriage? Why have they retained their coveted status throughout the centuries? Rachelle Bergstein’s cultural biography of the diamond illuminates the enticing, often surprising, story of our society’s enduring obsession with the hardest gemstone—and the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure their continued allure. From the South African mines where most diamonds have been sourced since the late 1890s to the companies who have fought to monopolize them; from the stars who have dazzled in them to the people behind the scenes who have carefully crafted our understanding of their value—Brilliance and Fire offers a glittering history of the world’s most coveted gemstone and its greatest champions and most colorful enthusiasts. Illustrated with sixteen pages of color photographs, this “biography” is filled with tantalizing anecdotes of the likes of Wallis Simpson, for whom Cartier created their iconic diamond-encrusted panther bracelet; Elizabeth Taylor, who made her numerous lovers prove their adoration through the gems they bestowed upon her; and “Jacob the Jeweler” and Ben Baller, the edgy contemporary jewelers who create custom bling for hip-hop stars from Jay-Z to Kanye. Smart, lively, and engaging, Brilliance and Fire is as dazzling as the very diamonds Bergstein reveals in a new light.

30 review for Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    Definitely an interesting read, although not extremely deep, or well rounded. Bernstein focuses on a few people involved in each era or aspect of the diamond industry, and tends to give a little too much focus to the back story of the individual rather than their contributions to the diamond industry. In the beginning of the books I was highly annoyed by how she minimizes Cornelia Bradshaw Martin's party as merely an excuse for Cornelia to wear her jewels, brushing aside her efforts to stimulate Definitely an interesting read, although not extremely deep, or well rounded. Bernstein focuses on a few people involved in each era or aspect of the diamond industry, and tends to give a little too much focus to the back story of the individual rather than their contributions to the diamond industry. In the beginning of the books I was highly annoyed by how she minimizes Cornelia Bradshaw Martin's party as merely an excuse for Cornelia to wear her jewels, brushing aside her efforts to stimulate the local economy. Also, this book has three footnotes. Yes, 3. What, I ask, is the point of three footnotes? It's a ridiculous number for footnotes. I mean, really? I almost took a star off for this. Anyways, this book was generally very readable and enjoyable. I learned much that I did not already know and some of it was about diamonds and some of it was about people that I had never heard of before. And some of it about people that I did already have passing familiarity with of course.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I like the idea of reading about the history of diamonds, but unfortunately the author focused on superficial research and events. It read more like a shallow timeline than anything else.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Groot

    This is an innocuous book mostly about how diamonds have been marketed, with a bit of history. There is virtually nothing about their science or any of the usual guy-oriented stuff I tend to like.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    I re-discovered this book when I transferred all my unread books to my new Kindle at Christmas, and started it up as a nice non-fiction option. I really enjoyed the book and found it interesting and well-laid-out with a mix of factual data and flashy recollections/suppositions. The book covers the rise of the modern diamond industry, starting from the first mining in kimberlite pipes in Africa in the 1800s through to the early 2000s, from both a physical "get the diamond and make it into somethi I re-discovered this book when I transferred all my unread books to my new Kindle at Christmas, and started it up as a nice non-fiction option. I really enjoyed the book and found it interesting and well-laid-out with a mix of factual data and flashy recollections/suppositions. The book covers the rise of the modern diamond industry, starting from the first mining in kimberlite pipes in Africa in the 1800s through to the early 2000s, from both a physical "get the diamond and make it into something" standpoint as well as marketing and cultural standpoints. Much of the book will be roughly familiar to anyone reading it today with even a passing interest in diamonds, due to media coverage over the past twenty years of "blood diamonds" and so on. The details and background that the book provides give a much more in depth picture, not only illuminating the industry and the stones themselves but also the culture in America and across the world. I most enjoyed the last few chapters, especially those about hip-hop and other modern culture groups using diamonds as status symbols, and I learned a lot about them. This is a solid 4-4.5 stars for me, it's not a five-star book because I tend to rate books that also affect my emotions as that rating, but this is definitely a good interesting book that handles its subject matter well.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Veronica Lozada Tucci

    Writing a review to justify my 5 star rating. From what i can tell,people came into the book expecting something different, this is not a science or geology book ( and I have no clue why anyone would think it was if they read the blurb). This is the history of diamonds as a product, as most importantly as a status symbol. It discusses how marketing strategies lead the diamond to its place as a unique symbol of success as well as the main accepted option for an engagement ring. It is critical and Writing a review to justify my 5 star rating. From what i can tell,people came into the book expecting something different, this is not a science or geology book ( and I have no clue why anyone would think it was if they read the blurb). This is the history of diamonds as a product, as most importantly as a status symbol. It discusses how marketing strategies lead the diamond to its place as a unique symbol of success as well as the main accepted option for an engagement ring. It is critical and level headed, while also not piling on the industry and moralising. A great book if you are interested in the history of fashion, the luxury industry and the long term effects of successful marketing books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nine Provinces

    This is a lightweight, entertaining recap of the diamond industry and why we equate diamonds with love : we've been told to do so. I like the author's breezy yet informative style..ultimately she's not revealing much that avid gem watchers don't already know. But us magpies can't get enough, and it was a fun read for me. I will read more from this author.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rita Bookreader

    5 stars for author Rachelle Bergstein. She is an incredibly talented writer who brings to light a history of diamonds in a fascinating way. Looking forward to more books from this author.

  8. 5 out of 5

    D D

    Bergstein avoids the boring ‘Geology 101’ and instead dives into the historical legends and myths of that penultimate gemstone, the diamond. It’s important to recognize, which Bernstein does, that diamond provenance has influenced our culture’s appreciation of, and value for, diamonds. We would not feel the way we do about this simple crystal without having seen Elizabeth Taylor sporting her collection, or Audrey Hepburn at Tiffany’s, or Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Bergstein avoids the boring ‘Geology 101’ and instead dives into the historical legends and myths of that penultimate gemstone, the diamond. It’s important to recognize, which Bernstein does, that diamond provenance has influenced our culture’s appreciation of, and value for, diamonds. We would not feel the way we do about this simple crystal without having seen Elizabeth Taylor sporting her collection, or Audrey Hepburn at Tiffany’s, or Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” or all the royalty and stars flaunting their diamonds (the latter every year on countless red carpets)! This is the story Bergstein shares and, frankly, it’s the most important one that influences your impression of diamonds today. [Oh yes, I know, you’re so aware of conflict diamonds and that diamonds aren’t *really* rare, but if someone offered you an 8 carat pear shaped D internally flawless, let’s be real: you’d take it in a heartbeat.] One more thing—Bergstein has done her gemological homework. It’s the first layman’s description of simulant versus synthetic versus naturally occurring I’ve read that gets it right. People with a decade in the industry screw this up, so Bergstein’s contribution to educating the public is very welcome. Buy the book, be entertained and informed, and know that you’ll finish knowing much more (correctly) about diamonds that you did before picking it up.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    Rather than spend money on this star-ridden puff piece, just read the online essay, "All Diamonds Are Blood Diamonds." ( https://apscuhuru.org/all-diamonds-ar... ) The author barely touches on the exploitation of diamond workers (which only happened in the past, she would have you believe). Mostly she loves talking about which rich person or star bought which big diamond. (Yawn.) While Bergstein does give the history of how the public has been manipulated into desiring diamonds, "Brilliance and Rather than spend money on this star-ridden puff piece, just read the online essay, "All Diamonds Are Blood Diamonds." ( https://apscuhuru.org/all-diamonds-ar... ) The author barely touches on the exploitation of diamond workers (which only happened in the past, she would have you believe). Mostly she loves talking about which rich person or star bought which big diamond. (Yawn.) While Bergstein does give the history of how the public has been manipulated into desiring diamonds, "Brilliance and Fire" is basically a long drawn out ad for the diamond industry. An honest book would address the central question, "If all these priceless diamonds come from Africa, why is Africa so poor?" The writer gives the impression that ever since Mandela, things are fine in South Africa, and the only problem is "blood diamonds." This is propaganda. It's a deep story. If you love justice, if you think the lives of African and Indian diamond workers matter, read that EXCELLENT essay, and you'll understand why "All diamonds are blood diamonds."

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    I liked this more than I expected to, having been in a hurry and grabbing it off the "What's New" display at the Library. Bergstein takes us through the history of diamonds, but concentrating on the decades since Cecil Rhodes started up in South Africa, and the rise of De Beers as the long-time worldwide choke-holder of supply, and thus price. Since diamonds' popularity waxes and wanes, she discusses the usually effective marketing and advertising campaigns by De Beers. The big name dealers, lik I liked this more than I expected to, having been in a hurry and grabbing it off the "What's New" display at the Library. Bergstein takes us through the history of diamonds, but concentrating on the decades since Cecil Rhodes started up in South Africa, and the rise of De Beers as the long-time worldwide choke-holder of supply, and thus price. Since diamonds' popularity waxes and wanes, she discusses the usually effective marketing and advertising campaigns by De Beers. The big name dealers, like Tiffany, Cartier, and Harry Winston, etc. also figure prominently Of course, the diamond-loving customers, from engaged women, to early New York socialites, to Hollywood stars, to rappers are covered. Various related subjects such as conflict (blood) diamonds, lab-grown and substiutes come up. My only real criticism is that sometimes it can be difficult to follow fast-changing chronology. It is a nice, diverting read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    The Book Grocer

    Bergstein explores how diamonds became a girl’s best friend in this knowledgeable account of the history of the precious stone. This is a fascinating cultural biography exploring society’s obsession with diamonds and the people who work to continue to ensure this obsession. Georgia, Book Grocer Purchase this classic here for just $12.00 Bergstein explores how diamonds became a girl’s best friend in this knowledgeable account of the history of the precious stone. This is a fascinating cultural biography exploring society’s obsession with diamonds and the people who work to continue to ensure this obsession. Georgia, Book Grocer Purchase this classic here for just $12.00

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This is a well-researched and compelling generalist history of diamonds, exactly as it purports to be. It is not a social justice piece, or a geology textbook. If you want either of those, you’re in the wrong place.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    An interesting social history of diamonds. I would have enjoyed geologic/scientific discussion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. Rachelle Bergstein provides us with a fascinating cultural biography of the diamond. Largely focusing on the diamond from the nineteenth century onward, this work of non-fiction details the source of diamonds, the diamond engagement ring's rise to prominence, famous jewelers known for selling diamonds, the marketing and image of the gem, and many stories of the famous individuals who are known for their jewels. Although Bergst I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. Rachelle Bergstein provides us with a fascinating cultural biography of the diamond. Largely focusing on the diamond from the nineteenth century onward, this work of non-fiction details the source of diamonds, the diamond engagement ring's rise to prominence, famous jewelers known for selling diamonds, the marketing and image of the gem, and many stories of the famous individuals who are known for their jewels. Although Bergstein does not delve greatly into the history of diamonds before the 1800s, she does explain that before the fifteenth century, diamonds were worn almost exclusively by men. The first woman known to wear diamonds was Agnes Sorel, "mistress of King Charles VII of France" in the mid-1400s (47). Yet today, nearly 80% of couples buy a diamond engagement ring. Bergstein efficiently details the many forces at work, both economically and socially, that led to this powerful change in association and practice. Bergstein explains that around the turn of the twentieth century, the practice of giving an engagement ring had some historical precedent, but it was not a widespread practice. Furthermore, at this point, most rings included a gemstone, typically the woman's birthstone, but diamonds were certainly not the gem of choice. Around the same time that the trend in engagement rings surged, the quantity of available diamonds increased. With well known figures such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposing to Eleanor with a "3.4-carat diamond ring from Tiffany & Co." in 1904, the diamond engagement ring grew in prominence (44). In addition to providing an engaging overview of diamond usage and history in the last few centuries, Bergstein also relates compelling anecdotes about this gem. This book covers the rise of large jewelers known for selling diamonds including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Harry Winston, and De Beers. Famous jewels such as the Star of the East and the Jonker are described. Additionally, famous names known for their jewels are detailed, including Wallis Simpson, Evalyn McLean, Jacqueline Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Nicole Kidman, and Jennifer Lopez as well as rappers such as 2Pac, Jay Z, and Kanye West. This book reveals the powerful role the diamond industry has played in manufacturing diamonds as symbols of love through strategic advertising campaigns such as placing their jewels around the necks of the rich and powerful. Additionally, Bergstein exposes the atrocious practices behind diamond mining in some countries, which have led to the commonly known term "blood diamond." I did find the organization of this book somewhat scattered in the opening chapters, which jumped around in time and subject before the book finally came to a smoother progression. Although I understand that this is already an immensely broad topic, I would have appreciated a bit more historical context surrounding diamonds and the use of jewels in general before the 1800s. However, Bergstein does an excellent job of covering a broad and internationally-ranging topic in a concise and easy to follow manner. I knew very little about the history of the diamond industry before reading this book and found this to be an excellent introduction and overview of the topic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Today's post is on Brillinace and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds by Rachelle Bergstein. It is 384 pages long and is published by Harper Collins. The cover is blue with white lines making diamond shapes and cuts. The intended reader is someone interested in the history of diamonds both scientifically and socially. There is no foul language, no sex, and no direct violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead. From the back of the book- A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phra Today's post is on Brillinace and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds by Rachelle Bergstein. It is 384 pages long and is published by Harper Collins. The cover is blue with white lines making diamond shapes and cuts. The intended reader is someone interested in the history of diamonds both scientifically and socially. There is no foul language, no sex, and no direct violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead. From the back of the book- A diamond is forever." Who among us doesn’t recognize this phrase and, with it, the fascination that these shiny gemstones hold in our collective imagination as symbols of royalty, stars, and eternal love? But who gave us this catchphrase? Where do these gemstones and their colorful legacies originate? How did they become our culture’s symbol of engagement and marriage? Why have they retained their coveted status throughout the centuries? Rachelle Bergstein’s cultural biography of the diamond illuminates the enticing, often surprising, story of our society’s enduring obsession with the hardest gemstone—and the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure their continued allure. From the South African mines where most diamonds have been sourced since the late 1890s to the companies who have fought to monopolize them; from the stars who have dazzled in them to the people behind the scenes who have carefully crafted our understanding of their value—Brilliance and Fire offers a glittering history of the world’s most coveted gemstone and its greatest champions and most colorful enthusiasts. Review- This was an interesting account of the history of jewels and diamonds in particular. Bergstein covers the basic history of diamonds without getting stuck in the details. We move back and forth over the course of history with different diamonds and people. She talks about diamonds in her own family's lives and how diamonds came to be seen as forever. Bergstein explains how diamonds were not the once preferred gems that they are today and about the people who changed that. All this information is given in a well written and easily digested manner. I enjoyed this book and I feel that I have a better idea about the general history of diamonds now. I give this book Five out of Five stars. I was given this book to review by Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    Really fun read on the rise of the diamond as an American status symbol

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: This engaging story that used a single object to tell great personal stories, as well as talking about larger social issues and historic moments, was everything I want from a microhistory. Diamonds have long fascinated people far beyond their value and the diamond industry has worked hard to keep it that way. Throughout history, they have been associated with everything from critical wartime manufacturing to genocides but still advertising and an artificially limited supply have fairly c Summary: This engaging story that used a single object to tell great personal stories, as well as talking about larger social issues and historic moments, was everything I want from a microhistory. Diamonds have long fascinated people far beyond their value and the diamond industry has worked hard to keep it that way. Throughout history, they have been associated with everything from critical wartime manufacturing to genocides but still advertising and an artificially limited supply have fairly consistently maintained their association with luxury and love. I'm just going to go ahead and say it - this book rocked. It was a real gem. A diamond in the rough. I'm also suddenly very impressed at the author's restraint in use of puns :) All punning aside, this truly was an awesome book. The author had a very engaging storytelling style. She did an impressive job bringing people and eras to life, using just the right amount of informality and humor to be fun and accessible while still educating. She also picked an interesting topic to work with. From their discovery to their role in engagements, heavily promoted by DeBeer's, diamonds have a long and fascinating history that she made the most of. Even just the preface was entertaining, funny and full of fun facts. And in the same space, the author also managed to use diamonds to get at bigger questions about history and humanity. I find I'm not able to write much more, as much as I've been writing for my thesis lately, so I'll wrap by saying this was precisely what I look for in a microhistory. The author's combination of entertaining and informing, of focusing on the little details that bring stories to life and the big picture of why they matter, was perfection. Highly recommended. This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  18. 4 out of 5

    JQAdams

    This is a pretty quick read, jumping from the history of how high society felt about wearing diamonds, to Cecil Rhodes's and de Beers's shenanigans, to makers of diamond substitutes or lab-made diamonds, to the rise of bling culture in hip-hop. As you might expect from that sort of breadth, it's not deep or ground-breaking in any of these things. It also definitely suffers from the "I was able to interview Person X, so I'll spend a lot of time talking about her even though she's not really that This is a pretty quick read, jumping from the history of how high society felt about wearing diamonds, to Cecil Rhodes's and de Beers's shenanigans, to makers of diamond substitutes or lab-made diamonds, to the rise of bling culture in hip-hop. As you might expect from that sort of breadth, it's not deep or ground-breaking in any of these things. It also definitely suffers from the "I was able to interview Person X, so I'll spend a lot of time talking about her even though she's not really that important to the story I'm describing" syndrome. (That's at its worst when Bergstein talks to an opponent of the Kimberley Process, thereby presenting some guy's thoughts about whether diamonds make conflict worse. This seems like the sort of question for which there exist actual studies where people look at data, so that one need not rely on people, especially people with conflicts of interest, just voicing their opinions. Indeed, in less than ten seconds with a search engine I could find such studies. Those may or may not be credible, but Bergstein doesn't care deeply enough to look into them when she could just talk to some guy instead.) For better or worse, this is nonfiction for when you don't want to have to think too hard.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Oleksandra Orlova

    Рашель Берґстін пише про світ речей. Про аксесуари та прикраси, про предмети, які обожнювалися, попри другу заповідь. Через їхню історію, мов через призму, вона демонструє історію людства, і робить це докладно й уважно, втім, без претензій на звання експерта. Саме цей стиль наративу авторки - з позиції споживача і досить романтичної особи, робить монографію "Блиск і полум'я" доступною для широкої аудиторії. Але не чекайте від цієї книжки гламуру й мімішності - це серйозне і добре продумане видан Рашель Берґстін пише про світ речей. Про аксесуари та прикраси, про предмети, які обожнювалися, попри другу заповідь. Через їхню історію, мов через призму, вона демонструє історію людства, і робить це докладно й уважно, втім, без претензій на звання експерта. Саме цей стиль наративу авторки - з позиції споживача і досить романтичної особи, робить монографію "Блиск і полум'я" доступною для широкої аудиторії. Але не чекайте від цієї книжки гламуру й мімішності - це серйозне і добре продумане видання, ближче за стилістикою до статей у TIME, аніж у Cosmopolitan.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenny GB

    Bergstein details a brief history of diamonds through recounting famous anecdotes and people in the last century or so of diamonds. I had heard many of these things before, but Bergstein recounts them in an engaging and very readable way. You'll find this a quick read and possibly learn a few new things about diamonds along the way. Just a warning, though, that reading this may leave you wanting to have some diamonds!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mary Beth

    Bergstein examines the diamond and its cultural implications from roughly the nineteenth century on, moving through the tumultuous past, the iconic Diamond Is Forever campaign, the notorious "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?," and the scandal of blood diamonds—all with admirable nuance, great thoughtfulness, and fascinating anecdotes, making Brilliance an engrossing read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Reagan

    This book was really engaging and interesting to read!! The writing is very easy going and makes everything really easy to understand. I really enjoyed the chapters and how the book was set up. I think this book would be awesome as like a documentary or a mini series with like an episode per chapter!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marylisa Sullivan

    I've always been fascinated by diamonds and this book does a good job of explaining the industry. It starts with 1800's on. Does not go into any exploration of ancient cultures relation to diamonds.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Travis

    Exceptional and timely

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

  26. 5 out of 5

    Olga

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Lee

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Charchian

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bianca Covaci

  30. 4 out of 5

    Claire Moylan

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