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Jewels: A Secret History

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  708 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Throughout history, precious stones have inspired passions and poetry, quests and curses, sacred writings and unsacred actions. In this scintillating book, journalist Victoria Finlay embarks on her own globe-circling search for the real stories behind some of the gems we prize most. Blending adventure travel, geology, exciting new research, and her own irresistible charm, ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,942)
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Madeline
"In the course of my research I found that although, of course, some rare stones have amazing and frightening dynastic tales, every jewel, however small or flawed, has its story: about the earth that was excavated to retrieve it, the families who depended on it, the people who designed the cutting method, those who bought or were given it, and the meanings and properties attributed to it. Whole human, geological, and cultural histories are wrapped up in every stone we wear or desire, even if it ...more
Kam
A couple of years ago, my aunt went into a jewelry phase. She began to take interest in not just precious gems, but in semiprecious stones, primarily because some of them were reputed to have special properties for healing and protection. She then got my mother into it, and for a while they shopped without my knowledge, mostly because I had work at the time, and moreover was more inclined to put money away than spend it. But during one summer, I started accompanying my mother on her trips with m ...more
NancyHelen
I love this kind of non-fiction - is is enjoyable, readable and informative. The combination of history, science, philosophy, travelogue and memoir in this book was fantastic. It is one of the easiest ways to learn about something which could be quite dry if handled differently. I know more about jewels than I could have possibly imagined before and not one piece of it was boring.
Brandon
In her third book Ms. Finlay has mined historic literature for the mythology and mystique that surround gems of note; her debunking of the curse of the Hope Diamond, for instance, is hilarious. She also globetrots to the countries of a gems origin, at times literally descending into the mines. Her own anecdotal experiences become part of the scintillating, like being stalled in a taxi during an elephant parade in Sri Lanka (elephant parades are good for the sapphire business, as such a gem that ...more
Brittany
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Victoria Finlay is a gifted storyteller. She profiles nine different jewels (pleasingly, in order of Moh's scale). She discusses the geological origin, cultural history, historical symbolism and economics of each stone, but in a way that's entirely conversational and engaging. Her book never feels like a lecture, it always feels like a story you'd hear from a fascinating, well-traveled friend over drinks. Findlay is adventurous in her quest for detail, often going ...more
Eva
Another well researched book by Victoria Finlay. With her books, you really have to read the preface to learn how she began her research, what's her resultant thesis, where the tale will take you. Her books are classic examples of a fully developed research project.
Finlay organized her book using Mohs' scale of hardness for gemstones. She begins with the softest, amber, and ends with the hardest, diamonds. The book covers where they are found, what they are made of, some history of their popula
...more
Kara

A dense read - and surprisingly more about current events than history.

Each section is based on a jewel, going by the current level of value we assign them, ending, obviously, with diamonds.

The narrator traveled to a lot of areas to research the current jewel industry and all of its horrors and puts in a lot of history along the way to show how we got from past to present, but personally I would have preferred a more chronological rather than subject based approach.
Kate
Пару лет назад я прочитала первую книги Финли - про краски. Мне тогда очень понравилась и тема, и сама автор. Как она умеет копаться в материале, как она умеет расследовать старые тайны! Многие из них просто лежат на поверхности и ждут, когда кто-нибудь обратит на них внимание. Но за вторую книгу я почему-то ленилась взяться. И очень-очень зря.
Кзалось бы, книга раскрывает секреты всего нескольких драгоценных камней. Но это не фантастические истории о прОклятых алмазах, не скучные физические пара
...more
Alumine Andrew
This is the second of Findlay’s books which I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed. I was travelling at the time and found it a good book to pick up and read in snatches.
This is a book about precious stones and where they come from, their history and their worth. “Travels through the jewellery box” is how she puts it.
I was amazed to discover that Amber comes from the Baltic region and how many people have died harvesting it. I had just bought some pearls and it was great timing to be able to read more
...more
Meaghan
This was a really fascinating book, each chapter telling the in-depth story of the history of each particular gemstone. I would recommend it for anyone interested in jewelry and/or microhistories. Amber, pearls, jet, peridot, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds were all covered. My only complaint would be that I wish more stones had been covered; for example amethysts or citrines or really anything in the quartz family.
Inês França
Although I'm sure it wasn't intended, "Jewels" comes across at as a bit of a downer. There isn't one of the precious materials (Amber, Jet, Pearl, Opal, Peridot, Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, Diamond)approached that doesn't have a sad story of exploitation and poverty at its base. My favourite chapters were "Pearl" and "Diamond" because they really go into the way in which an artificial desire was planted in the minds of consumers by clever marketers and savvy companies, for what are basically worthl ...more
Adam White
Love this book. History and Gemmology who could find a better introduction. Also some ripping yarns thrown in. Did I say, I love this book!
Gwynneth
Have you ever wondered just how good some of those books you see in the museum store? No, not the generic, all purpose books--the specific-to-the-fab-exhibit books. Yeah, dig down and shuffle through those things and sure enough, you'll find a great surprise like this.

Starting with amber (did you know one of the Soviet gulag camps was an amber mining facility?) and ending with diamonds, Finlay tells the legends, the history and the current day travesties behind the jewels through a combined tra
...more
Ian
Author Victoria Finlay takes the reader on a diverting rummage through the jewel box.

The book is partly a travelogue and partly a micro history of the subject. It is structured in 9 chapters looking at a different type of gem in each. Broadly speaking the chapters cover the geographical sources of each featured gem, the people who mine/collect it, and the part each type of gem has played in human society, in particular how the value of particular gems has risen or fallen at different times in hu
...more
Sasha
In this cute book - part travelogue,part encyclopedia - Victoria Finlay tells a story about jewels, their history, where do they come from and our perception of them. As one of the characters in the book said, "you can't eat them, you can't read them, you can't shelter under them" and still people seems to be obsessed with them to the point they lose lives in order to get them. Finlay travels far and wide to get informations about Amber,Jet,Pearl,Opal,Peridot,Emerald,Sapphire,Ruby and Diamond, m ...more
Ape
Bookcrossing 2007:

It's like history/social anthropology/travel/geology all mixed up into one. It is a fascinating book, I really enjoyed it. Something I could come back to. There's just so much in it that it's hard to know where to begin to say what I liked.

I think the final chapter, on diamonds, was a particular eye-opener, and I don't think I will ever look at them in quite the same way again. They do have this reputation of being the 'top-gem' and yet there are so many of them out there and t
...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
I loved this book! Victoria Finley took me on a rambling journey through the world of gemstones, by the end I almost felt as if I had been on an actual holiday.

Instead this book took me on an extended ramble through the world and time, in search of specific gems. We spend time in Egypt, visiting the ruined remains of Cleopatra's Emerald mines. Jet had us visiting part of the Uk and extensive period was spent back in time on the Baltic and in Northern Europe discovering Amber. Sapphires took us t
...more
Monica Williams
I have to admit I don't read much non fiction. It just doesn't call out to me like fiction does. I read Victoria Finlay's colors which had the most gorgeous cover image, but as I remember the book was a bit on the dry side. Jewels, which as the author says sprang from some of the research she did for Colors more than redeems her earlier drier effort. The book is organized using the Moh's Scale of hardness of stone going from the softest to the hardest stones. Finaly look at more that just stones ...more
Andrea
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book with such a narrow focus, but this was a really enjoyable read. For each gemstone, Finlay dug into not only the history and relative value but the traditions and cultures that were shaped or influenced by the gem throughout it’s known history. I don’t think many of us stop to really think about gems, but this book provided some really interesting history of how gem popularity has changed over the centuries, how science has forever changed the valuation an ...more
Amanda Witt
Good description of the history of each of the main gemstones, and the country they originated in. Author travelled widely to each country to see the origins of the mines herself.

My favourite line - re the sapphires in Burma/Myanmar: 'the shutters on several windows sprung open like an Advent calendar' re the living quarters of the miners, as the author and guide/translator approached.
Brenda Mengeling
I have had a fascination with gems and jewelry since I was a child, and I enjoy reading travel memoirs. Therefore, I thought Jewels: A Secret History would by a perfect read for me. And I did enjoy it by and large. However, it didn't hold my interest consistently. Ms Finlay chose gems to write about going up the Moh's hardness scale, and this limited the number of gems she chose. For example, she covered emerald but not the other colors of beryl. I also found what she chose to cover sometimes od ...more
Kevin Grubb
Brilliant, heart-breaking, hilarious and fascinating.

Victoria Finlay's account of a set of the world's most precious stones tells a fascinating history of greed, sacrifice and power. Each jewel is given its due through Finlay's travels across the world. Her interviews with the people directly involved in the industry today serve as modern testaments to the historical narratives.

You know what? Read the damn book. It's great.
Chaundra
"every jewel, however small or flawed, has its story: about the earth that was excavated to retrieve it, the families who depended on it, the people who designed the cutting method, the others who bought or were given it, and the meanings and properties attributed to it [. . .] hidden treates are the cultural layers of meaning and fascination that can always be found wrapped around them."

So states the author, Victoria Finlay in her preface, and I think pretty much summarises the beauty of this
...more
Nancy McClure
Sep 07, 2008 Nancy McClure rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who likes jewelry. or otherwise.
a big fan of Finlay's previous book 'Color', I picked this one for my cross-continent flight. I was somewhat prompted by my recent engagement, and friends' constant chorus of "where's The Ring?" and me realizing that I didn't endorse the standard concept of The Engagement Ring. It got me thinking about how that concept came about, and why we uphold it. Finlay brings to light just such puzzles of social/economic prompts, the physical and emotional tolls such quests enable. and solicits discussion ...more
Robin
I enjoy history and love me some sparkle! Picking this up, it seemed like the best of both worlds. Each chapter is focused on a different jewel, beginning with amber and ending with diamond. The focus for each is primarily on origins-- where did/do the jewels come from? how were/are they procured? how were they precious, or conversely, how have they devalued? Though I learned a lot and there was some fascinating information, especially in the early sections (jet, pearl, opal, peridot), I found m ...more
Janine Precey
Wonderful story that brings to life precious stones. Fantastic facts, amazing histories, bright characters. Would loved to have gone with Victoria as she travelled the world. Easy to read and will leave you with a deeper understanding next time you walk past the jewellers.
Shirley Dockerill
This book made we want to get up out of my armchair and go explore the places she writes about. Not listed as a travel book, but seriously better than a lot of travel books. Oh, and I learnt loads about the history of and trading in various different gemstones. Thank you
Michelle
Finlay does an amazing job of narrating her history of jewels in an entertaining, yet informative manner.

A few years back I had read her book "Color: A Natural History of the Palatte" for a course in college. I was surprised how easy a read her book was, and despite the 400+ page count of the book, I was able to finish it in two sittings.

"Jewels" is no different than "Color." Finlay's combination of journalistic and narrative writing techniques keeps the reader's interest and makes him yearn to
...more
Jessica
This was right up my alley, a combination travel memoir/natural history/geography/geology book, and was my favorite nonfiction read from 2007. I do love interdisciplinary books that help show how complex our world is...Ms. Finlay traveled the world getting the stories on the geology of common gems as well as the personal stories of the people who collect/mine them. She used Moh's hardness scale as the structure of the book, with stories of her own gems given to her as gifts as the sentimental he ...more
louisa
When told how much my grandmother's gift of pearls was worth at age six, I turned to her and said wide-eyed "Do you know how many books you could buy with that?" So, I'm perhaps not the target reader for this. But! I am fascinated with how value is determined for these small rocks. Finlay rights a chapter each on 9 precious stones, with highlights including Jet (how a whim of Queen Victoria shaped the life and economy of a seaside town), Opal (prospecting in the middle of the Australian outback) ...more
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“...almost every pearl on sale today was born of the planned sexual violation of a small creature, and that considerable suffering hangs on those necklace strings.” 11 likes
“I realized it was like a dating agency: the ions are the lost souls looking for mates; the electrolyte is the agency that can help them find each other.” 9 likes
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