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Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic [Hardcover]

Kevin Krajick
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 16 2001
In the tradition of Sebastian' Junger's The Perfect Storm and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Barren Lands is the extraordinary tale of two small-time prospectors who risked their lives to discover $17 billion worth of diamonds in the desolate tundra of the far north.

In the late 1970's, two men set out on a twenty-year search for a North American gem mine, along a fabled path that had defied 16th-century explorers, Wild West prospectors, and modern geologists. They are an unlikely pair: Chuck Fipke, a ragged, stuttering fellow with a singular talent for finding sand-size mineral grains, and Stew Blusson, an ultra-tough geologist and helicopter pilot. Inventive, eccentric and ruthless, they follow a trail of geologic clues left by predecessors all the way from backwoods Arkansas up the glaciated high Rockies into the vast and haunted "barren lands" of northern Canada. With a South African geochemist's "secret weapon," Fipke and Blusson outwit rivals, including the immense De Beers carte, and make one of the world's greatest diamond discoveries- setting off a stampede unseen since the Klondike gold rush.

A story of obsession and scientific intrigue, Barren Lands is also an elegy to one of earth's last great wild places, a starkly beautiful and mysterious land strewn with pure lakes and alive with wolves and caribou. An endless variety of primeval glacial rock formations hide copper, zinc, and gold, in addition to diamonds. Now that the barrens are "open for business," what will happen to this great wilderness region?

Barren Lands is an unforgettable journey for those who, in the words of a nineteenth-century trapper, "want to see that country before it is all gone."

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Product Description

From Library Journal

Diamonds spell adventure, and their lure is timeless, as evidenced by this compelling book. Magazine writer Krajick (Natural History, Newsweek) leaves few stones unturned as he presents not only a "diamond rush" in Canada's Northwest Territories during the 1990s but a history of one man's pursuit of this gem. The familiar names are here, including Charles Tiffany, Frederick Kunz, Cecil Rhodes, and the ubiquitous DeBeers. So, too, are the diamond mines scattered across the globe in India, South Africa, South America, the United States, and Canada. Scandals and scams have long been a part of diamond lore; the Great Diamond Hoax in 1872 Colorado rates a fascinating chapter of its own. The chief character featured throughout is Canadian Chuck Fipke, an eccentric, obsessed prospector and principal in the Lac de Gras/Ekati diamond mine (currently in operation in Canada's Barren Lands). A combination of arctic climate, corporate spies, and inexact geologic science, mixed with human greed, grizzlies, and prodigious amounts of insects and alcohol, turns the last half of Barren Lands into a suspenseful thriller. Miners, geologists, and rockhounds will be spellbound, but the appeal will easily extend to general audiences as well. This book is highly recommended for all libraries. Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

When we think of treasure hunters, we tend to think of gold or silver, but diamonds are rarer than either, and humans have been hunting them for half a millennium. Two such diamond hunters are Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson, the prospectors who struck it rich in a region of Canada's Northwest Territories called, appropriately enough, the Barren Lands. Their adventure is the centerpiece of this diamondhunting story, which combines excitement and danger, disappointment, tragedy, and the kind of luck that changes your life forever. Fipke and Blusson became extremely wealthy men; others who spent their lives in pursuit of the elusive glittering mineral were not so fortunate. Krajick, a journalist who reported on the Barren Lands diamond rush for Discover magazine, is a smooth storyteller with a novelist's ear for dialogue. But these aren't flamboyant fictional characters living out madeup lives; they're real people, and this is what really happened to them. A can't-miss for fans of reallife adventure. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Rating: "A" -- the obsession, hard work, heartbreak and good luck
required to make a multi-billion dollar discovery. Highly
This is the story of the discovery of the Ekati diamond mine, in the
Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories, by Chuck Fipke, Hugo
Dummett, and others.
Hugo Dummett signed on with Superior Oil in 1978 to prospect for
diamonds in North America, just as the science of using indicator
minerals -- pyrope garnets, chrome diopside and chromite -- for
diamond exploration was being worked out. Superior started
prospecting around Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds -- now
inconveniently a State Park. Hugo and Mike Wolfhard hired Chuck
Fipke and his crew to sample the area. Lots of fun with jungly brush
and shotgun-toting landowners... Hugo even tried to sweet-talk Gov.
Bill Clinton into leasing him the park!
Fipke is a poster child for the space-case prospector-geologist, but he's
smart, has a sharp eye and was an *amazingly* hard worker. But a
*terrible* boss -- he drove his workers to exhaustion, and wouldn't
take elementary safety precautions, even on helicopter-supported
work. It's remarkable he didn't kill anyone [note 1].
The road to Ekati was not direct. Superior's exploration program (and
their competitors') went down the usual side tracks and dead ends --
including rediscovery of the salted site of a 19th century diamond
fraud. Then -- just as Fipke & company were developing some truly
good-looking Barren Lands prospects -- Mobil Oil bought Superior,
and summarily axed all Canadian exploration. Thud.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Barren Lands by Kevin Krajick is epic nonfiction without artifice. The author does not create straw heroes or villains, but presents the story and its participants warts and all. The search for diamonds in North America is the story, and myriad searchers enter and exit during the tale's almost 500 years. The ultimate discovery of the source of North America's diamonds in the Canadian Arctic is the goal of the story. Charles E. Fipke, a person who presents a lot of reasons for the reader to dislike him, is the unlikely David in the story and De Beers, the company with a stranglehold on the World's diamond markets, is the Goliath.
Part of my interest in Barren Lands stems from my training as a geologist with an emphasis in mineral exploration. Part of the reason I became a high school earth science teacher has to do with my weakness at keeping scientific secrets. I knew that working for a mining or mineral exploration company would necessarily involve the nondisclosure of proprietary information and I knew that I couldn't do it. The tension between proprietary information and open scientific discourse is strongly portrayed in the book. Another reason for my interest comes from the fact that geology students of my generation were very aware of what these diamond deposits in North America should look like. I have been telling my 9th graders for years that somewhere in Canada there are some diamondiferous kimberlite pipes that have been glacially scoured and probably contain circular lakes, making them difficult to find. I have been telling them that someday someone would follow the diamonds in the glacial till covering northern North America back to the source of the diamonds.
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5.0 out of 5 stars All that glitters... April 2 2002
...is certainly not always gold...or diamonds for that matter. This book, however shines from cover to cover. There is something for everybody in Mr.Krajick's book Barren Lands. In dealing witht the overall subject of the 400+ year search for diamonds in North America, the author took me through a graphic history of adventure, intrigue and science. Krajick's style of story telling brings the tale of the search for diamonds thru-out the world to life and kept me rivited page after page. After reading of how some folks just stumbled across diamonds in their back yards I will probably always have one eye to the ground from now on.
The more recent North America activities of Fipke and Blusson, around whom much of the book revolves, is told in a personal and intimate manner, as only an author with first hand experience and contact could have related. There is also a good dose of the author's wry sense of humor and irony thrown in throughout his book. Please take special note of his tips on how to use a port-o-potty in 40 degree below zero weather on the tundra.
Probably the best book since reading Stephen Ambrose's book about Lewis and Clarke, Undaunted Courage. My only disapointment was reaching the last page.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Diamonds, Danger, Desire March 20 2002
Did you know that in about half of the states of the US people have found diamonds? Diamonds of more than two carats have been found, for example, in Ohio and Alabama, and finding them is often just child's play. Kids are the ones who pick these gems up, because kids are close to the ground and always looking for treasures. Finding a reliable supply of diamonds is much more difficult; the ones found on the ground are often chance deposits that were dropped when a glacier melted, but the glacier must have carried them from somewhere rich in diamonds. There aren't many such places, and it was a surprise that over the past decade, the Northwest Territories of Canada were deemed to be diamond mining country. The eerie, exciting, and disturbing story of how this came to be is told in _Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic_ (Times Books) by Kevin Krajick. The lure of diamonds has proved inescapable for a certain class of men for centuries, and Krajick's book tells about some of them he met while he did his research.
The Barren Lands (yes, that is the designation you will see on maps) is a half million square mile region as far north as Americans can go. There are no roads and no people, and it is called barren because it is above the northern limits which trees can reach, Since diamond exploration has started, however, it could well be populated with workers producing gold, uranium, and other minerals. At the heart of the story of exploration here is Chuck Fipke, a weird little guy who does nothing to improve the image of geologists. When Fipke was in charge of a prospecting expedition, he drove his men ruthlessly, especially his own son with distressing ferocity ("When you're not eating or sleeping, you're working for me.").
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars happy
The book was exactly as described, arrived bang on time. These words were added to make twenty, the review minimum.
Published on Dec 21 2011 by T. Czyczko
4.0 out of 5 stars Revised review
On October 17,2001, I submitted a harsh and critical review of Barren Lands, by Kevin Krajick, which is still being presented by Amazon.com. Read more
Published on Nov. 23 2002 by John S. White
5.0 out of 5 stars Diamonds and Minerals, look and you will find.
Great story of the quest for diamonds. Just goes to show you, that if you are allowed to look you can find anything society wants. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2002 by Energy Czar
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth Surpasses Fiction
In my work as a lapidarist (rock and gemstone cutter), I have heard many anecdotes and personal accounts regarding discovery of commercially viable gemstone deposits. Read more
Published on May 9 2002 by michael hendrix
4.0 out of 5 stars This book has it all!
Wow what a great story. Krajick manages to somehow intricately weave the history, science, and business of modern prospecting in a very fluid manner. Read more
Published on March 13 2002 by W. Corners
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I have read in along time.
I am a graduate mining geologest and have worked within the mining industry many years. I found this book so packed full of interesting history of the diamond industry, the... Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2002 by Arnold C. Wood
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Thing.
This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the history and geology of diamonds, what it takes to find them and what working as a mining exploration geologist or... Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Read
Geology is not usually one of my favorite topics. I remember slogging through John McPhee's interminable series of articles for The New Yorker and vowing to avoid the topic at all... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2001 by Brett L. Gold
5.0 out of 5 stars Barren Lands by Kevin Krajick
I have recently purchased and read the book, Barren Lands, by Kevin Krajick, and have enjoyed it immensely. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2001 by Laura Michaelides
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