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Jewels: A Secret History


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About the Author

Victoria Finlay studied social anthropology at the University of St. Andrews and the College of William & Mary, Virginia, before working for Reuters in London and Scandinavia. She spent twelve years as a journalist in Hong Kong, five of them as arts editor of The South China Morning Post, where she also presented a weekly radio program. She now lives in Somerset in southwest England, and divides her time between researching her next book and working for an international environmental charity, www.arcworld.org. Jewels is her third book.


Gems seem to be moving to the literary forefront, with The Hope Diamond out in May and The Heartless Stone: A Journey through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire due in August. In her follow-up to Color, Finlay looks at diamonds and eight more of the world's most coveted gemstones. In each chapter, she discusses the jewel's history and travels to the stone's place of origin: abandoned emerald mines in Egypt, working opal mines in Australia, a pearl-fisher's home in Scotland and an Apache reservation that holds most of the world's supply of peridot. Finlay is also fascinated by the lengths to which people will go to fabricate jewels: one company manufactures diamonds from cremated human remains. While each journey holds its own charms-Finlay's trek to Sri Lanka to uncover the pedigree of a family heirloom sapphire is particularly enjoyable-they don't fully gel into a cohesive whole, and detailed stories about, say, the way one Japanese entrepreneur transformed the world's pearl market are juxtaposed with historical trivia. Still, Finlay's winning personality may well be enough to keep readers turning the pages. 8 pages of color and b&w illus. throughout. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Part travelog, part history, Finlay's book tracks the circuitous path of some of the world's precious and not-so-precious gems through history. Using the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the author chose ten gemstones, ranging from the softest, jet, to the hardest, diamond. Each section is a hodgepodge, detailing the author's worldwide travel, from Europe to Sri Lanka, in pursuit of a particular gem's origin, history, and current market status. Finlay also describes her encounters with locals, including a Scottish pearl fisher and gem market traders in India. The last section contains jewel trivia, discussions of famous diamonds (including the Hope Diamond), and a gem glossary. Rather than examining the study or science of gems, this work, like her Color: A Natural History, feels a bit like journalist George Plimpton's writings about his forays into professional sports, although less self-aware. Her opening and closing remarks about the stones in her own engagement ring are somewhat disconcerting. Recommended, with reservations, for public libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)-Regina M. Beard, Kansas State Univ. Libs., Manhattan Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Praise for Victoria Finlay's Color

"The writing elegant and precise, and with at least one new and fascinating revelation on every single page . . . I could not be more enthusiastic."
-Simon Winchester, author of A Crack in the Edge of the World

"Color is the essence of landscape, of mood, of our whole perception of the physical world. Victoria Finlay has traveled through Iran, Afghanistan, and other places to investigate the origin of all those tantalizingly sensual ochers and reds and blues. What a creative idea for a book!"
-Robert D. Kaplan, author of Imperial Grunts

"In this engaging travelogue, a rainbow of hues determined the author's choice of destinations. . . . By the time you read 'Violet,' you will have traversed much of the world, sharing Finlay's contagious fascination with color."
-Conde Nast Traveler

"A rainbow of stories . . . even casual natural history fans can enjoy Finlay's conversational style and her enthusiasm."
-Chicago Tribune

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