Evening conversation, Tom Zoellner’s Heartless Stone

Tom Zoellner breaks down the workings of the global diamond industry.

We had a lovely evening last night with Dunreith, Helen, Ava and Aidan.

I made some guacamole that I served with hummus and baba ghannoush for appetizers, then moved onto grilled vegetables and salmon for the next courses, along with some pasta for Ava the vegetarian,  a potato for Helen, and a couple of brats for Aidan.

Ava’s favorite wine, a Cotes du Rhone Guigal, animated the experience for her and Dunreith, while Helen had her trademark couple of ounces of Glenlivet Scotch.

This post is not about food, even though one could reasonably assume so.

It’s about the conversation and a topic that Helen and Ava discussed.

Ava was talking about a two-month trip she took to New Zealand and Australia shortly after Nathan Schieber, her second husband, died in the late 90s.   As part of the travel, she took a four-day trip across New Zealand’s largest lake.  On one of the days of the crossing, she passed into a cave that reminded her of Charon rowing across the River Styx.

But then she came onto a vision that remains with her still of maggots in one of their stages of development shimmering in light like a cathedral.

Helen was impressed by the picture Ava painted, and compared the maggots-I had to ask a couple of times before accepting that Ava was confirming what I had heard-to diamonds’ glitter.

Ava did not seem overly impressed, saying that her diamonds are just a different, more sparkly form of carbon to which people have assigned worth.

My contribution to the conversation was mentioning Tom Zoellner’s informative book, Heartless Stone, a work that uses his failed engagement as a springboard to travel the globe and learn about the diamond industry.

Zoellner’s quest for understanding the history of diamonds’ takes him to Russia, Canada, South Africa and the United States, among other places. As the Edward Zwick film “Blood Diamond,” and Kanye West’s song Diamonds from Sierra Leone both do, Heartless Stone raises serious questions about the human and moral cost we pay collectively for our passionate obsession with the often dazzling stones.

Zoeller’s work is more historic and wide-ranging in scope than the film and song, which focus almost exclusively on Africa’s role in the global trade.  For me, one of the most interesting and disturbing chapters came when he explains how assiduously DeBeers and others worked to create the sense among consumers that a diamond was an indispensable part of a successful engagement.

I understood why Zoellner used the personal dimension of his story to anchor it, and will say frankly that part of the work held me far less enthralled than the guts of the work.  Still, this is an impressive and enlightening book by a talented author who is forging a trail of doing well-researched and morally-based work (He also co-authored Paul Rusesabagina’s An Ordinary Man, which tells about the Hotel Rwanda employee’s sheltering more than 1,200 people during the Rwandan genocide.).

I drove Ava home last night and Helen returned to Western Massachusetts this morning, but the memory of the New Zealand cave and the diamonds will stay with me for a while.


4 responses to “Evening conversation, Tom Zoellner’s Heartless Stone

  1. Pingback: Choosing The Cut of A Diamond

  2. Thanks to your blog and google alert, I got to be a fly on the wall for this conversation. Thanks, Jeff, and glad you liked the book. Here’s a raise of a glass of virtual Glenlivet to you!

    All the best,

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Tom, for the note, and congratulations on both the diamond and Rusesabagina books. What are you working on these days?


      • Hi Jeff,

        A history of the railroad in world culture that must be limited to about 400 pages. It’s like trying to pour Lake Superior into a shotglass. But I get to write a section about why Chicago was America’s echt railroad town from 1850-1968, and grew to its present opulence primarily because of the iron horse. You’ve read Nature’s Metropolis, by William Cronon? He’s got some great material in there about the stockyards and the RR.


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