To while away the time on the remote Atlantic island of St. Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte’s companion-in-exile, Count de Las Cases, pens the history of a fabled diamond. Plucked from the earth in India, the uncut gemstone is brought to Europe by Thomas Pitt, an Englishman, who dangles it before Europe’s crowned heads in hope of making his fortune. Cut and polished to a final size of 140 carats, the stunning jewel, christened the Régent, finds a purchaser in Louis XIV, who cherishes it as proof of his majesty and displays it proudly. From that period onward, the diamond’s fate is interlocked with that of the French rulers. During the Revolution, they and their state jewels—the diamond among them—suffer.
Napoleon, the Régent’s next owner, is superstitious—the Régent becomes his touchstone, his good omen. Embedding it into the hilt of his ceremonial sword, he refuses to hand it over to either of his wives. Las Cases, whose political sympathies lean more royalist than republican, nevertheless finds himself as fascinated by his Emperor as he is by the Emperor’s prized possession.
Baumgold’s writing is as vivid as the eras she describes, filled with fascinating detail and sharp observations about historical figures—some better known than others. Entertaining and interesting in equal measure, The Diamond is warmly recommended.