I must admit, I am captivated by jewels: their shine, their brilliance, their color. Thus, I was excited to read a history of jewels. Finlay's is a social history, examining how human beings have constructed the value of brilliant minerals. This is not a comprehensive study. Finlay has chosen a series of case studies, the research for which took her all over the globe, from Australia, to Russia, to Sri Lanka, to the American southwest. This is quite an interesting book, and it certainly does show that these stones that human beings so treasure have no inherent value. This is evident in the changing fortunes of so many stones, which have variously fallen in and out of favor. It also becomes clear through the course of Finlay's work, that stones have, and do, cause a tremendous amount of human suffering. Indeed, in the long history of gems there has been much more misery than fortune. Finlay's history is clearly narrative in nature. She is concerned with telling some of the most interesting stories behind the jewels. It is not a book that analyzes the larger social forces behind many of these changes. Still, this is an interesting book. Finlay gained access to many places most people cannot. She travelled to some of the most unforgiving parts of the world in search of the people who mine, cut, and sell valuable stones. Any jewelry-lover will likely find this book engaging.
Victoria Finlay, Jewels: A Secret History (Random House, 2007), ISBN: 0345466950
Category: Reading the Dewey Decimal System, 2/9, 24/81