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Diamonds: absorbing tale of intrigue, romance; The World of Diamonds, by Timothy Green. New York: William Morrow. $12.95.

"A diamond is forever" -- and so is the mystique surrounding it. The fiery gem has long been associated with romance and intrigue. In Timothy Green's absorbing account, the emphasis is definitely on the latter.

Green unveils the clubby, tradition-steeped world of international diamond merchants where jewels are referred to only as "the goods" -- and "submarine" (smuggled) goods sometimes surface in even the most respected establishments. He retraces the steps by which South Africa's De Beers mining firm rose from a hole in the ground to become a pervasive global monopoly. And he discusses the reasons would-be diamond investors often end up with less glitter than they paid for.

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Along the way, Green takes us into the mine shafts, the great trading centers , the workshops of master cutters, and the salons of exclusive dealers. He also details a surprising variety of industrial diamond applications, from road construction to satellite communications.

A wealth of colorful historical anecdotes reflects Green's own fascination with his subject. One glaring flaw: After reading such vivid descriptions of diamonds, we are eager to see them for ourselves -- but the book contains no photographs.

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