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Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World Hardcover – 2015
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Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World
As entertaining as it is incisive, Stoned is a raucous journey through the history of human desire for what is rare, and therefore precious.What makes a stone a jewel? What makes a jewel priceless? And why do we covet beautiful things? In this brilliant account of how eight jewels shaped the course of history, jeweler and scientist Aja Raden tells an original and often startling story about our unshakeable addiction to beauty and the darker side of human desire.What moves the world is what moves each of us: desire. Jewelry?which has long served as a stand-in for wealth and power, glamor and success?has birthed cultural movements, launched political dynasties, and started wars. Masterfully weaving together pop science and history, Stoned breaks history into three categories?Want, Take, and Have?and explains what the diamond on your finger has to do with the GI Bill, why green-tinted jewelry has been exalted by so many cultures, why the glass beads that bought Manhattan for the Dutch were initially considered a fair trade, and how the French Revolution started over a coveted necklace.
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Raden divides the book into three main sections; Want, Take and Have. As someone who, once upon a time, pre-marriage, pre-children, pre-mortgage, had quite the jewel fetish, the first section, in which she links the idea of perceived scarcity to value, was particularly interesting. She calls out the great long con the De Beers diamond cartel ran, the Manhattan beads and the boom and bust of New World emeralds. The next section, Take, covers jewels in the making of Queen Elizabeth I, the diamond necklace of the French revolution and an American's invaluable assistance in funding the fledgling USSR. Cultured Pearls and writstwatches make up the last section.
The book is very, very well researched, Raden is a scientist as well a jeweler and scholar of ancient history, and while the book is well written, she uses toggles between a scholarly and colloquial tone quite a bit. She take odd turns of language (almost whedonesque) which will date the book, or at least this edition. Things like calling the women of the court of Versailles' mean girls', or someone 'doing a solid' for someone else. The first 100 or so pages, I found this quite jarring but by the the end of the book I found these phrases almost charming.
If you are looking for a history of jewelry this book is probably not what you're looking for. It's first and foremost a social history, but if you want a book on how human nature shaped and is continuing to shape the modern era then I recommend 'Stoned'.
I loved this book.
What type of book is it though?
Is it a Yuval Noah Harari big picture look at humanity? Is it a Stacy Schiff event-based push through history? Or is it a subtly irreverent Mary Roach-type non-fiction book?
It's a little bit of all of these. I came in expecting a Harari-esque high-level overview of humanity and its conception of value, and though Aja Raden provides that - she definitely lapses into pure history.
Emeralds bring her into being able to show the fight between Spain and England. Faberge Eggs allow her to tell the tale of early 20th-century Russia.
De Beers? Haha - well that's its own chapter.
But though this book employs many different styles - like diamonds actually are - there is plenty to go around.
She begins with the New World, with the Dutch trading New York for beads, and then trading it again for a small rock in the middle of the ocean that was the only one that could make Nutmeg at the time.
She talks about Tulips, and then Marie Antoinette and a fight over a necklace. Antoinette is hapless but harmless, and the French Revolution decided to value her as the enemy.
She talks about a fight over jewelry and high Elizabeth and Spain shaped the world because of it.
She talks about Japan and Mikimoto making pearls - and how to manufacture an industry and a demand both.
In any case - I recommend this one. It meanders in style - but that can be a good thing. And watch out for the footnotes - some are citations, but wow - some are insightful, and some are hilarious.