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Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,036 ratings  ·  371 reviews

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 tell
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published December 1st 2015 by Ecco
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St. Gerard Expectant Mothers And how much the purchaser is willing to spend. Though diamonds might be a girl's best friend, it's not worth diddily squat if you can't pay it off.

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 ·  2,036 ratings  ·  371 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Written in a witty and easy to read manner and imparting some very interesting history and facts, this is the type of nonfiction book I love to read. Starting with the use of glass beads by the Dutch to buy what is now known as Manhattan, through Tudor history and Queen Elizabeth's love of pearls, through the infamous necklace that started the downfall of the French monarchy to the Faberge eggs of the Tzarina Alexandria and the Bolsheviks.

One of the parts I will not forget is the part on diamon
Linda Robinson
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm only giving this book 5 stars because the site doesn't have a 12 star rating. This is as much fun as reading ever gets, and the prima facie reason good nonfiction is more engaging than fiction. History, villains, heroes, economics, world wars, royalty and royalties, 36 inch tall hairdos (take that, Donald Trump!), a li'l island called Manhattan, and a smaller one off the coast of Japan, and science. And gems, jewelry and more better jewelry. Jewelry that somebody else has and you want and th ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty interesting book. Key events in history and lite economic theory told through the lens of gems and jewelry. The writing was good, the stories interesting and the author has a sense of humour about herself (though she did slag fat girls about 10 pages in and that made me want to put the book down)**.

There are some nice photographic centre plates; I wish there would have been more.

The chapter on the Faberge eggs and their role in the Romanov family, the Bolshevik revolution and t
Jeannette McCalla
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
By turns a history, geology, chemistry or economics lesson, it deserves to be read by all nerds! As an added bonus, she's got a sharp wit.
Stephen Yoder
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-read
I thoroughly enjoyed this wacky book, which is a confluence of chemistry, history, psychology, and technology. I had never thought of jewelry as a lens through which to view the various trends and movements through time of the human experience, but the author performs this task very well. It is also, in parts, quite funny. I highly recommend this book to people who have ever looked at a piece of jewelry, or had a watch. I received an advance reading copy (ARC), but i could see enjoying this book ...more
I was very excited to read this book. Stones and history collide! One of my favorite topics! Unfortunately I found myself let down and would give this 2.5 stars if I could. The book presents no original research, instead summarizing information obtained from secondary sources. This in itself doesn't bother me much, and the cited sources (at least the sources ARE cited) were frequently books I've previously read, and that frankly were better books. Stoned is written in a breezy, accessible style ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"Just like their glittering surfaces, jewels have one, and only one, real power: They reflect our desires back to us and show us who we are."

This is Aja Raden's first book and she is already my queen of non fiction. By blending history, humor, and personal experience Raden has created something compulsively readable. I think her voice could make any subject appealing.

Ever heard that infamous tale of the Native Americans who were swindled out of the island Manhattan by the Dutch for glass b
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
It was impossible for me to walk past this book. Admittedly, I am attracted to book covers and sometimes buy based only on the cover. Here, the temptation was doubled because the cover was one huge octagon cut emerald. Jewelry attracts me like a magpie and, apparently, I am not alone as author Aja Raden points out in Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World. Her premise for this book is here, in this quote from the preface, "All of human history can be boiled down to these thr ...more
Jonathan Maas
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolute Gem of a book

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 th
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fashion, microhistory
The evolution of modern world politics and the struggle for world power traces back to the fight over gravel or refuse that we have all been duped into believing is valuable and imbues power unto the beholder. Crown jewels. Diamond in the rough. The mere mention of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls evokes the ideals of royalty, wealth, prestige, and,power. How did it come to be that bits of gravel have become so highly sought after that we will pay ridiculous sums of money as an expression ...more
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a delightful book! Leave it to someone who studied both ancient history and physics in college to bring together the best possible history of the world told through jewels. Raden mashed together many disciplines to bring you the story of how jewels affected the world. I will list some highlights, but they won't do this book justice. Each section, no matter what jewel was analyzed, dove deep in not only how that jewel was discovered or cultivated, it also provided a delicious glimpse into th ...more
K.J. Charles
A pretty readable history told through a variety of precious stones (Faberge eggs, a diamond necklace, cultured pearls). The author adopts a breezy, jokey style that's fun to read in small doses but becomes a bit monotone over an entire book, and which also slightly undermines the project in that it makes you wonder just how accurate the wider history is. The stuff about jewels, her area of expertise, is all excellent; I wasn't fully convinced by the thesis about positional good and envy driving ...more
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
A breezy, meandering book on several topics on the theme of the history of jewelry, from de Beers' manufactured myth of the diamond engagement ring to the diamond necklace scandal that led to Marie Antoinette's execution to the invention of the cultured pearl, Faberge's eggs presented in the context of their period of Russian history, and the role of the wristwatch in World War I.

This was something of a mixed bag for me. The topics were interesting, but there was so little connection between the
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have worked in the jewelry business for a while now and am often amazed at how attached people are to their jewelry. The engagement ring part of it, especially will bring out the crazy in a lot of normally sane people. Sure it is pretty, special, valuable, a gift from someone you love, etc., but does it truly define us or our relationships? This book says "yes. undoubtedly".

Raden focuses on diamonds, emeralds and pearls, recounting the origins of each and the part they played throughout histor
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
An unpleasant read for a variety of reasons: its basis on common-knowledge mythology (the selling of Manhattan for glass beads, the early con of De Beers); the strange editorializing and un-cute (slightly disturbing?) anecdotes; and the amateurish writing. The tone it strikes is either way too conversational/casual (something "sucks" and a preponderance of "things" exist) or one that attempts to be pedagogical, which creates a problem with consistency and expectation. Furthermore, the stories ar ...more
Jul 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-nature
There was a lot of really interesting information in this book. Unique aspects of history that you won't find in a textbook or be taught in class. However, the editorialization of the material and the author's unnecessary commentary, combined with her very casual style of writing, made it quite difficult and frustrating to read at times.
Blair Stackhouse
I enjoyed this book way more than originally anticipated. It is a fascinating take on the history of jewelry mixed with the history of the world in general. She wrote in a way that was technical but totally accessible at the same time.
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
This was a really fun book to read. Aja Raden is a woman of many talents with unique training that enables her to relay key moments in human history as told through the lens of coveted gems and jewels.

Some of her tales, such as how the DeBeers cartel seized control of diamond supply and then manufactured demand for their inferior product out of thin air, were already familiar to me. Despite that, as I read Raden's engaging prose, I still learned how South African diamonds are different from tho
I really did not appreciate the historical inaccuracies in the description of Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868). The author refers to the Tokugawa era as the classical period (no, that would be the years 794-1185 CE) as well as the medieval period (no, that would the years 1185-1603, which precede the Tokugawa era). She throws around words like samurai and bushido in ahistorical context.

That chapter makes me doubt the historical veracity of the rest of the book.
In conclusion, I give the book 2.5 stars
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Stoned is the story of the ways jewelry has shaped history, including the glass beads used to purchase Manhattan, how the development of cultured pearls improved technology in Japan, the successful promotion of diamonds as engagement rings, and the necklace that started the French Revolution.

It's a fascinating story.
Jaclyn Day
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I think I realized a few years ago that I wasn’t really a jewelry person and that’s become more obvious since. I enjoy the occasional fun of an interesting ring, or a pair of small stud earrings, but that’s about it. The way to my heart is through cashmere or a nice bag, not sparkly things. However! After reading this book, maybe I need to rethink this life path. Stoned is absolute jewelry porn, talking about stones in the hundreds of carats and the lengths that humans have gone to in order to f ...more
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Even if you've heard some of these stories before, you've never heard them like this. Raden employs (and obviously enjoys) a story-telling voice throughout (and when she puts it to work in what I'm certain will be more writing in the future, it will be unmistakably recognizable). We can't help it that gems, jewelry, baubles, and various shiny accessories catch our eye — Raden makes sure that the interlocking strands of Stoned keep our attention. She exhibits a breadth of knowledge, a depth of re ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Enjoyed the info on the jewels. Did not enjoy the overly breezy style or extremely broad brushed history.
Tatiana Dengo
This is one of the bestest books I've read this year!!! And I can think of tons of people who would love it!

Stoned isn't really about the history of jewelry, as I first assumed. It really hinges on that "How Desire Shapes the World" and delves into this odd and embarrassing psychology of what makes something desirable, what we'll do to obtain it, and how what we want says quite a lot about us as humans.

Some memorable examples: Queen Elizabeth I's desire for a famed pearl (and what it represent
Sumeet Mahendra
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-her

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World
One of the good book I've read after a quite long time. It's wonderful mix of history, marketing, fashion and psychology. A must read for shopping addict ladies and wise husbands/boyfriends. Aja Raden clearly explained the reason behind things becoming cheaper or dearer. Beauty is a powerful motivator, and it has channeled the course of history from figures like Queen Elizabeth to the sale of Manhattan. The value of beautiful objects
Adrienne Dillard
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I really enjoyed this book. The writer was funny and engaging, and it was clear she knew her history. I would highly recommend this book for the whole spectrum of readership. Throughout the first few chapters, I thought this was a lock for 5 stars, but then I got to the chapter on Queen Mary I's pearl. While I wouldn't say the author was "wrong" on anything, I would say that she mischaracterized the women in this chapter and was often flat-out misogynistic in tone throughout. Later on in the boo ...more
Jul 26, 2018 added it
Shelves: women
Interesting topic apparently gave license for chat-like writing style and cavalier attitude to history's various crucial moments, on which scholars write tomes. On a plus side - just when you're about to get strabismus from never ending rolling of eyes - she presents another nugget of curious information ))
Jaelynn Jenkins
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Tales of the world's stones and the people driven to possess them. An ideal way to explore history. The author's sardonic wit is delightful. Endlessly interesting.
Meg Marie
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most interesting books I have read in a very long time. It's history and psychology and why we humans love what we love when it comes to gems, and how jewelry has shaped the world. PLUS the writing is funny and sassy and so I want to go and look at jewels with the author.
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a history and economics lesson rolled into one, covered in sparkly diamonds and sharp and hilarious writing
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Is this book about Gemstones? 1 1 Oct 01, 2020 02:03AM  

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“Diamonds aren’t forever. Diamond engagement rings have only been a “necessary luxury” for about eighty years. We take the tradition of a diamond engagement ring for granted, as if it were as old as marriage itself. It’s not. In fact, it’s only about as old as the microwave oven.” 7 likes
“Gemstones are, in fact, just colorful gravel. They’re just rocks that we’ve given special names. True jewels are things that are beautiful and scarce. We want them because few others can possess them. We want them even more if they are from some very faraway, exotic place. Their value is, and always has been, 90 percent imaginary.” 2 likes
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