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

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

Aja Raden

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0062334700

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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 tells an original and often startling story about our unshakeable addiction to beauty and the darker side of human desire.

What moves the world is what moves each of us: desire. Jewelry—which has long served as a stand-in for wealth and power, glamor and success—has birthed cultural movements, launched political dynasties, and started wars. Masterfully weaving together pop science and history, Stoned breaks history into three categories—Want, Take, and Have—and explains what the diamond on your finger has to do with the GI Bill, why green-tinted jewelry has been exalted by so many cultures, why the glass beads that bought Manhattan for the Dutch were initially considered a fair trade, and how the French Revolution started over a coveted necklace.

Studded with lively personalities and fascinating details, Stoned tells the remarkable story of our abiding desire for the rare and extraordinary.

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in books of medicine and poison, as well as cookbooks, and in the right doses, it’s a powerful hallucinogen. According to culinary historian Kathleen Wall, it “really does have the chemical constituents to make you feel good.”* It was a drug—and more important, it was an exotic drug that was hard to get your hands on. The Dutch had one problem: There was one very tiny island in the archipelago, no more than a rock, that was not controlled by the VOC. It was called the island of Run, it belonged

beads that bought Manhattan? The nutmeg exchange represents the second time the world’s future capital was traded away for something of dubious value, but the connection between the two stories goes deeper than that; it has to do with the way in which humans determine value itself. It has to do with perennial laws of supply and demand, but more powerfully, with the way our perceptions of rarity distort our conception of value. The Lenape traded Manhattan for beads. Big deal. They didn’t own the

pneumonia,” still clinging to the dark blue diamond. Evalyn McLean’s tragic life had already made the Hope Diamond one of the most famous diamonds in the world when Harry Winston bought it from her estate. But like his predecessors, he could find no buyer for an item so costly. And that’s where the story of the Hope curse gets interesting. Not because some tragic fate befell Harry Winston. He did just fine. But because that was when the story of the curse was popularized—by Harry Winston

nobility and infamous pirates. The strange fusion went beyond personnel and equipment; it extended to the entire British approach to battle. The English used new tactics, which, like their ship design, had been developed and adapted over several decades of open-ocean piracy. The Spanish moved in a tight formation that was difficult to approach or breach, because they expected the English to attempt to board and take their ships. That is, after all, how naval battles had been fought for centuries.

decades of the Edo period, just before Perry’s intrusion, the system had begun to crumble. It wasn’t only peasants who were prohibited from acting outside their designated roles. Samurai warriors and nobility were no more allowed to engage in commerce than the peasants were allowed to do anything but farm. The result was increasingly resentful merchant and peasant classes, supporting a militaristic aristocracy that, with no wars to fight, was living on borrowed money that it had no way of

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