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I’ve yet to see the Western where a toothless prospector with a crazy gleam in his eye lisps, “There’s diamonds in them thar hills!” But that doesn’t mean his grizzled ilk weren’t—or ever stopped—looking. In Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic, Kevin Krajick recounts how modern-day prospector Chuck Fipke regularly risked life and limb—in one telling passage, he boards a tiny helicopter that his pilot has just jump-started by using junked car

batteries—in an ultimately successful search for the elusive North American mother lode. But Krajick’s book is not just about the diamonds’ discoverer but also about their hiding place: namely, the inhospitable Barren Lands at the northern edge of Canada, where no trees grow and no people live (though grizzly bears have been known to call them home). Barren Lands is a contemporary yarn about striking it rich the old-fashioned way—with a pickax and a dream more durable than any diamond. Oh, and more guts than good sense. Otherwise, you’d never get in that helicopter. Krajick presents an illustrated lecture at noon at the National Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Michael Little)