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

Aja Raden--jewelry designer at Tacori in Los Angeles, former House of Kahn auction director, historian and scientist--pretty much takes on the full history of the world in a fascinating story of the human passion for jewelry. Her title, Stoned, is apt: a slightly irreverent description of our addiction to glitter and the violent retribution men (and women) have pursued in finding, taking and hoarding it. In a clever, funny narrative laced with slang, footnotes and asides, Raden traces the impact of the quest for diamonds, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones on the political geography of the world. She focuses not so much on gold and silver (often just the infrastructure for elaborate settings), but rather on the gems that put the jewel in jewelry. Monarchs, explorers, conquerors, tycoons, marketers and scientists get their moment in her crosshairs and take their hits.

Stoned is not only an omnibus, sometimes snarky world history. Raden also explores the origins of jewels and the art of jewelry-making. She digs into the psychology behind our coveting: "You want it because everybody else wants it, and everybody else wants it because someone else has it. Nobody wants it if everyone can have it." Finally, she concludes with a history of the wristwatch--not just as jewelry, but as technology that helped decide victory in World War I and soon may strap access to everything on our wrists. Stoned is an intriguing take on world history with plenty of adornment and anecdote to entertain us along the way. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.