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The Diamond is a brilliant, dazzling historical novel about a famous diamond—one of the biggest in the world—that passed from the hands of William Pitt’s grandfather to the French kings and Napoleon, linking many of the most famous personalities of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and serving as the centerpiece for a novel in every way as fascinating as Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover or Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
Rich with historical detail, characters, and nonstop drama, the story centers on the famous Regent diamond—once the largest and most beautiful diamond in the world—which was discovered in India in the late seventeenth century and bought by the governor of the East India Company, a cunning nabob, trader, and ex-pirate named Thomas Pitt. His son brought it to London, where a Jewish diamond-cutter of genius took two years to fashion it into one of the world's greatest gems.
A glittering cast of characters parades through The Diamond: a mesmerizing Napoleon and the devoted Las Cases, stuck on Saint Helena with their memories; Louis XIV and his brother, the dissolute Monsieur; Madame, the German princess who married Monsieur; the Scottish financier John Law and Saint-Simon, who sold Pitt's diamond to Madame's depraved son; the depressed Louis XV; and Madame de Pompadour. Here too are the families, the Pitts in England and the Bonapartes in France; the men of Saint Helena; nobles and thieves; Indian diamond merchants and financiers—nearly everyone of interest and importance from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth century.
Written with enormous verve and ambition, The Diamond is a treat, a plum pudding of a novel filled with one delicious, funny, disgraceful episode after another. It is grand history and even grander fiction—a towering work of imagination, research, and narrative skill.
Baumgold's Napol on-centered historical features deft, magazine profile like characterizations and a gracefully brisk pace. Found by a slave in India in 1701 and transported to England by one Thomas Pitt, the R gent diamond (the title McGuffin) was sold to the French Bourbons, eventually ending up, for a time, with Napol on. Baumgold (Creatures of Habit), a former columnist for Esquire and New York, writes in the first person of real imperial historian Comte de las Casas (1766 1842), who accompanied Napol on to exile at St. Helena. There, Napol on tells him of the jewel, and de las Casas quickly dashes off its rollicking history (the rest of the book), which stretches from 1672 backstory to the exile, with a clunky epilogue from "Abraham," an invented character. The utter horror of the revolution and the constantly tumultuous state of French politics are not glossed over, and great personalities of the time (Louis XIV XVI, Marie Antoinette, Josephine, William Pitt the Elder and the Younger) are highlighted, briefly, as they sweep by in the jewel's wake. The absorbing and entertaining result is what de las Casas calls "the wit achieved on the staircase," explaining well the failings of these sad historical effigies, if not the qualities that raised them.