Revelator, indeed, another gem and greatly enjoyed. Happy Holidays.
Girl’s Best Friend (Sunday Times, Dec. 09, 1956)
Diamond. By Emily Hahn. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson.18s.)
By Ian Fleming
I am one of those people who actually buy books. I think I have done this all my life because I like bookshops and booksellers, and I certainly used to like all the books I bought which, up to the war, were 90 per cent. fiction.
After the war I started buying books again, but the proportion of fiction dropped very rapidly. I don’t think it was because I was getting older, I think it was because novels became increasingly introspective and “difficult” and stopped having plots. Instead I read more stories of travel and adventure and reportage. In these there are no wastes of introspective dialogue and none of those contrived psychological situations which I, the hero, would have solved in the first chapter by emigrating to Canada and getting away from the dreadful woman.
So books like Diamond have become my escape-reading where, before the war, I would have bought, apart from the obvious ones, the latest T. F. Powys, Liam O’Flaherty or A. E. Coppard. Of course, the technique of reportage has improved out of all knowledge. Miss Emily Hahn is a graduate of the New Yorker Profile school, which has for thirty years been turning out the best contemporary history. She also holds degrees in mining engineering and mineralogy, which explains American advertisements describing Diamond as “the sparkling new book by the world’s most beautiful mining engineer.”
Miss Hahn’s story is not the whole history of the diamond. The Indian and Brazilian fields are barely mentioned. It is the story of the great diamond fields and mines of Africa where the first diamond was found in 1866 or 1867—by the Boer child who picked up the pretty pebble. The rush was slow in developing and expert geologists who scouted the Kimberley veld poured typically professional cold water on the myth of the pretty pebbles.
One of these, a. Mr. J. R. Gregory, representing a London diamond firm, reported dogmatically that the veld was not diamondiferous. The few stones that had been picked up, he announced, were brought to the locality in the crops of ostriches. His firm, without wondering where the ostrich had found the diamonds in the first place, accepted the expertise and dropped all interest in the veld. A year later the rush was on. And then came the great diamond names—Barnato, Belt, Joel, Dunkels, Robinson, Wernher, and, finally, the Oppenheimers, who head the industry today.
Emily Hahn examines them all with a sharp, neat pen. She quotes the music-hall lyrics about them at the tum of the century when the South African millionaires were collectively known as “Piggy.” “Piggy will pay, pay, pay!” the ladies of the chorus caroled blithely as they went through their dance routines.
She tells the story of the discovery of the Cullinan—a great heavy chunk of blue-white diamond so big that the finder could not close his hand over it—and of that other huge stone found a few years ago in the Premier mine that somehow got into the crusher and was pulverised. She writes about the early prospectors, IDB, and about Hannay, the man who “made” diamonds.
All the hot romance surrounding the hard, cold stone is in this book. The writing is clear, humorous, excited. This, to me, is the perfect literature of escape.
Ian, you’re in a glass house, probably best you put that stone down.
More about Emily Hahn. Quite the adventurer…
Introduction to Herbert Yardley’s The Education of a Poker Player (1957)
By Ian Fleming
If it were possible to have worse laws than our sex laws they would be the laws that regulate gambling…To deal only with what is relevant to this brief note, while twenty million adults gamble on the football pools each week, ten million on horse-racing and five million on premium bonds, playing poker for money, a legal game over half the world including most of the British Commonwealth, is illegal. And really illegal. The Hamilton, a respectable private London card club, found this out in a police action which effectively warned the whole of England off the game. In 1945, at Bow Street, it cost them £500. The grounds for this action? That poker is not a game of skill! Of course an old woman who marks her football coupon and wins £70,000 for her shilling bet has done nothing but study football form for 50 years. No luck in that little gamble! Moreover, she and the other 20 million experts bring in £22 million a year to the Exchequer while the poker player brings in nothing. So the pools are legal and poker isn’t. Balderdash, and hypocritical balderdash at that, to the power of n.
Which brings me, after the smoke has cleared, to this book. It is a book whose publication in London I am proud to have fathered. The circumstances were these. Knowing that I love cards, a friend sent me a cutting from an American magazine that handsomely ‘trailed’ The Education of a Poker Player with some of the late Mr Yardley’s most intriguing hands. I at once sent to America for the book, was delighted with it and gave some copies away for Christmas. The next time I talked to my publishers, Messrs Jonathan Cape, I urged them to publish the book here. They demurred. No one in the British Isles played poker. It would not do well. I said that the book contained only a dozen pages of instruction—brilliant instruction—and that the rest was a hatful of some of the finest gambling stories I had ever read. It didn’t matter that the game was poker. These were wonderful, thrilling stories about cards. The book would certainly become a gambling classic. English card players would read it and love it. The book had zest, blood, sex, and a tough, wry humour reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. It was sharply, tautly written. It would be a bestseller—well, anyway, it would look very well on the backlist. The mention of this holy word in publishing was, I think, the clincher. Cape’s readers, that sapient, humorous, receptive duet, read the book. Yes, it was certainly all that I had said. Perhaps, if I would write a preface…I said I would and here it is and here is the book that Mr Yardley wrote.
Myself, as fine writers phrase it, I am not a good poker player. I drink and smoke and enjoy the game too much. You shouldn’t do any of these things if you want to win at poker. Poker is a cold-hearted, deadly game that breaks and bankrupts men today just as, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, écarté, backgammon, ombre and faro bankrupted our rakehelly ancestors. The last time I played poker, I lost more than I could afford in rich brassy company in a house at Sunningdale in what is now known as ‘The Canasta Belt’. These people would introduce variations which I was mocked for not understanding. In the end, numb with martinis and false bonhomie, I pretended I understood the intricacies of ‘Minnie Everley’. I remember the name but not the variation. It was named in memory of one of the Everley sisters, who in Chicago at the turn of the century kept the finest brothel America had ever known. The chamber pots were of solid gold and the sisters paraded their girls through the town, be-feathered and be-flounced, in open landaus, every Sunday morning when the bells were ringing and the quality of Chicago were on the streets and making for the churches. I learned all this afterwards. At the time and in the name of Minnie, I played a ragged, brash game that cost me dear. I was fleeced and deserved to be. I would not have been fleeced if I had read Mr Yardley’s book and if I had, above all, digested the card-playing philosophy which lies behind his stories and his instruction. Every fine card player I have ever known has this philosophy, but I will caution you that very few fine card players are the sort of people you and I would like to play with. It’s not fun playing against cold-hearted butchers, however soft their words, and as you read about them in these gay, smoke-filled pages I think you will often feel a chill of apprehension. But it will be an authentic chill. That is why, not as a poker player, but as a writer of thrillers, I can recommend this book to every consenting adult card player in Great Britain.
Note: Herbert Yardley led a fascinating life and wore many hats: spy, father of American cryptography, whistle-blower (in his book The American Black Chamber), Hollywood scriptwriter, playboy, agent for hire by Canada and China, and accused traitor. For more, consult the article “Gambling with his Life” at Artistic Licence Renewed. For even more, consult “The Many Lives of Herbert O. Yardley,” uploaded by the National Security Ageny. And for a lot more, there’s the 2004 book The Reader of Gentlemen’s Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking, by David Kahn.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that a professional code-breaker and man of mercenary motives should turn out to one of the “cold-hearted butchers” gifted at poker. Neither Fleming nor Bond fit the quoted description, which is partly why poker doesn’t fit in their world. I wish someone had told the filmmakers that in 2006.
They’d just made Die Another Day…are they really going to give a toss how one card game was perceived over another by Fleming in another books foreward in the 50’s?
Perhaps not, but the film did take pains to be faithful to much of the rest of the book. I’ve heard that the decision to go with poker in part resulted from Michael Wilson being a fan of the game, but of course there was also a poker craze at the time. The resulting film obviously leaped on that trend and that of the Bourne series.
In any case, the filmmakers wouldn’t have needed to read the introduction to know that poker plays no part in book Bond’s world.
As always Revelator, thank you for digging out these little gems and mounting them all for the rest of us to appreciate. I’ve waited years to read Fleming’s journalism and asides. You keep presenting fascinating little bits and pieces I’d no idea even existed. Thank you!
You’re very welcome! I’m delighted to share these articles with fellow connoisseurs and even more delighted by their responses.
Brilliant stuff. Cheers!