Review: Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years That Changed England by Catherine Bailey

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Catherine Bailey chronicles the rise and fall of the Fitzwilliam coal mining dynasty in Yorkshire England.

The Fitzwilliam family was at one time, one of the wealthiest families in all of England.

So how does this extensive fortune and massive house end up on the real estate market in 2014 in need of mass repairs?

Well that’s what Bailey decides to find out. What follows is this outstanding narrative about the rise and fall of this aristocratic family, a fortune worth 3 billion pounds by today’s standards, and a family full of salacious scandal, family feuds, and dark secrets.

This book was scandalous and I loved it! I am a huge fan of Bailey’s first biography, The Secret Rooms which I read last year. I love reading about the British aristocracy and royals, because again, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This book was a little different for me than The Secret Rooms. With The Secret Rooms we jumped right into the story and the family history/scandal etc.

Black Diamonds started off like that, but then there was this big chunk after the first couple of chapters about the coal mining industry and the strikes.

I’ll be honest, that whole coal mining background and history was really boring for me. Part of me just wanted to skip over it and move on to the actual story about the Fitzwilliam family but at the same time I figured it wouldn’t be in there if there was no relevance to the overall story. So I pushed on.

The coal mining background was important and relevant to the novel but for me it just drug on a little too long. I would have broken it up maybe between the chapters.

The mystery surrounding the Fitzwilliam family and their wealth is nothing short of fascinating. My biggest struggle with the book though was the timeline. The book started in 1902 but then jumped around to 1839.

I did struggle to get my barrings and keep track of the that was going on. In her previous book, the timeline of events was easy to track and followed a logical pattern, but this book jumped around a little too much for me.It made it harder to follow along and digest how to information fit together.

Truth be told I liked her first book better, but this narrative had a lot to love as well.

This book covered an extensive amount of family history over a number of eras. I was thoroughly impressed by Bailey’s research, she covered so much info and presented it in an interesting and relevant method.

Sometimes history can be a little bland and very academic. I think that’s why some people tend to be put off by non-fiction or historic books.

Personally I am working on my MA in American History so I read a lot of non fiction for my class….I can say that many of the texts that I read are academic and dry so reading non fiction for ‘fun’ doesn’t always seem like a good idea to me.

But what I love about Bailey is that she always finds interesting aspects of British history. The scandal and the drama of real life plays out effortlessly in her writing. I find myself drawn in and captivated by what she is conveying.

I loved reading about the rich and famous of the British aristocracy, anything with the worlds elite is always interesting since it’s out of the realm of everyday life.

If you enjoy history, particularly British history, this is a great read. It has a little bit of a Downton Abbey feel which I liked and if you are interested in the period of lifestyles of the rich and aristocratic than this is a wonderful read.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years That Changed England by Catherine Bailey

  • Paperback, 544 pages
    Published December 30th 2014 by Penguin Books (first published March 1st 2007)
    ISBN 0143126849 (ISBN13: 9780143126843)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5

Genre: non-fiction, Victorian lit, Edwardian era, biography

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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