I have carried a copy of Barren Lands by Kevin Krajick with me longer than any reviewer with a sense of decency should. It has traveled with me through hasty household moves to New Haven, then to Los Angeles, and finally to New York. I have read it three times now; each time I buried myself in its text, I discovered a different, richly rewarding book.
The first of the stories the book tells, as its subtitle promises, is a historical epic on the search for diamonds in the Arctic that details the 450-year history of diamond exploration in North America. Krajick also touches on discoveries in Brazil, India, and South Africa. This account is rich in archival gems. Who, for instance, knew that doctors treated Pope Clement VII in 1534 by dosing the ailing pontiff with 40,000 ducats worth of ground-up diamonds and other gems? Or that alchemists believed that diamonds could be cultivated, like flowers, by watering them with May dew?