Campbell, a freelance writer, sets out to rub the noses of diamond-lovers in the gore of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war (1991-2001), in which a rebel army of thieves seized the country's diamond fields and specialized in amputating the limbs of villagers to force their cooperation in the plunder. Arriving on the scene in 2001, Campbell interviewed survivors and observed efforts, often bumbling, by the UN's huge peacekeeping mission to stabilize the country. Is there a way to bar the sale of tainted gems on the world market? Ultimately no, the author says, given the ease of smuggling something with such low weight and high value. But this fact has not stopped the De Beers corporation, which still controls about 65 percent of world sales of uncut diamonds, from trying mightily to convince consumers that its diamonds are clean. At this stage, however, few consumers know about the villagers in Sierra Leone, or that al Qaeda laundered money by buying blood diamonds, or that Liberian President Charles Taylor, the Slobodan Milosevic of Africa, has remained in power largely through illicit diamond deals with the Sierra Leone rebels.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.