Hope: Adventures of a Diamond

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9780345444868: Hope: Adventures of a Diamond

The Hope Diamond–the largest and most beautiful blue diamond ever found–has inspired centuries of legends and lies, fabulous superstition, and fierce passion. French kings and ravishing Hollywood stars have worn it next to their hearts; reckless aristocrats have let it slip through their fingers. Flaunted, hidden, stolen, and cursed, the Hope Diamond still tantalizes and inspires all who lay eyes on it. Now in Hope: Adventures of a Diamond, Marian Fowler tells the riveting story of this mythical gem and the extraordinary men and women who have owned and lost it.

It is a tale that begins more than a billion years ago in the mountains of India where the gem was forged of basest materials. Unearthed sometime before the birth of Christ, it was more than twice its present size and wondrously shaped. For long slow centuries, the immense blue stone, revered as a divine gift, probably served as the unwinking eye in a statue of a Hindu god.

With the arrival of Europeans, the Diamond was snatched from the realm of the mystical and thrust into the world of commerce, materialism, and political symbolism. Marian Fowler brilliantly unfolds the complex story of how French merchant/adventurer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier acquired the sacred diamond in India and sold it to the one monarch who could–and would–pay for it, King Louis XIV of France. Cut and polished to half its original size, the diamond remained in the possession of the house of Bourbon, passed down from Louis to Louis, until a cabal of common thieves stole it during the French Revolution.

The pace quickens once the diamond comes into the possession of Philip Hope, the scion of a Dutch-based trading and banking empire who gave it the name it has carried ever since. But the heady days in the London townhouses and country estates of the Hope family were brief, and by the twentieth century, the Hope Diamond had become the object of unseemly marital wrangling and social climbing of American millionaires. It was only when diamond master Harry Winston donated this prize to the Smithsonian Institution that the Hope was finally safe and accessible to all who wanted to admire it.

A sweeping saga peopled with the world’s most beautiful women and most unprincipled men, Hope: Adventures of a Diamond is at once a page-turning thriller and a glittering social history of the astonishing few who craved–and could afford–such a gem. Dazzling and delicious, this is a book truly worthy of its flawless, priceless subject.

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Review:

Born scores of miles below the earth's surface eons ago, the great gem known today as the Hope diamond has been "crisscrossing countries and cultures for more than two thousand years," bringing fortune and disaster alike to its many owners. Marian Fowler reconstructs the flawless blue diamond's long journey from its discovery in the mines of northern India to Europe and onward to America. Along the way she looks at the strange mania for gem collecting among Europe's nobility (noting, for instance, that French monarch Louis bought $16 million worth of jewels in the year 1687, to his treasurer's great consternation); studies a remarkable gang of jewel thieves who used the turmoil of the French Revolution to their highly profitable advantage; and examines the career of the American entrepreneur and gem collector Harry Winston, who "became obsessed with owning all the world's largest, most famous diamonds," and whose largesse, though self-serving, made the great gem part of the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution. Fowler's tale has all the twists and turns of a good mystery, and gem fanciers and history buffs alike will enjoy following the Hope diamond's curious career through her pages. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

Hope: Adventures of a Diamond is a copious, unstinting work of popular scholarship, and a rousing tale of the flawless sapphire blue stone that holds ‘the secret of Creation itself.’ Marian Fowler’s chronological approach to the material is well organized and richly detailed, and the book’s insights on changing values ascribed to the diamond -- on how so many paid so much for a mere lump of mineral -- are particularly strong.” -- Quill and Quire

“Fowler’s detailed, vivid description of the gem’s rough life in India is some of her best work. . . . . Fowler has done a fine job conveying what people have created in their minds from the reflection of this miraculous, but mute, stone.” -- The Globe and Mail
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