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Publisher's Summary

Wentworth is today a crumbling and forgotten palace in Yorkshire. Yet just 100 years ago it was the ancestral pile of the Fitzwilliams' - an aristocratic clan whose home and life were fuelled by coal mining.

This is the story of their spectacular decline: of inheritance fights; rumours of a changeling and of lunacy; philandering earls; illicit love; war heroism: a tragic connection to the Kennedys'; violent deaths: mining poverty and squalor; and a class war that literally ripped apart the local landscape.

©2008 Catherine Bailey; (P)2008 Oakhill Publishing Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Extraordinary, fascinating, harrowing. A truly compelling read." (Sunday Telegraph)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Story

gripping tale

This book has everything - mystery, interesting characters, political and social history, juxtaposition of obscene wealth and obscene poverty, the family at the centre of the story and the players who enter and leave the scene are all fascinating. And it is all true! The narration is masterful: Gareth Armstrong's voice and pace are a perfect match for the tale, and his different tones and accents for the different characters are a welcome added dimension. I bought Black Diamonds after enjoying Catherine Bailey's, 'The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery'. I would find it hard to choose between the two, both top reads!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Historic Paradigm-shift

This book is a new type of history - looking behind the curtain. Instead of reinterpreting monuments of known documents, the author is going one level away from the subject and the view is much, much better. These are histories of society and social trends, of groups instead of individuals. Wonderful book. I want more. I love this new type of history.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Black Diamonds: Pure Gold

Well. If you love British History, especially the history which zeroes in on a particular family's life, then of course you will want to listen to "Black Diamonds."

This is a well researched and intriguing presentation of the history of the Fitzwilliam family and their relationship to the industry which supported them and the thousands of colliers who lived to mine their fortune of coal, or "black diamonds." That the mining of coal allowed a lopsided advantage of privileged wealth to the gentry while exacting a heavy toll (both physically and financially,) on the miners, is revealed in an interesting and engaging way by the author, Catherine Bailey.

By examining the rise and fall of the Fitzwillams, Ms. Bailey renders a good understanding of the economic relationship of English aristocracy and the people they employed while also fully coloring the manner in which industrial England transformed after the reformation of the ownership of the coal industry itself. Even with all the finely nuanced political and economic information which Ms. Bailey includes, it is never a dry read (or listen,) but a thoroughly gripping story of human trials, life and loves.

One last word. I need to throw some well-earned accolades toward the narrator, Gareth Armstrong. His performance, in which he easily switches from some very specific regional accents and back to his "neutral" narrative voice, is 100% on target. His abilities, (even when wrestling with the flattened vowels of an American voice,) are beyond expectation and render a full spectrum of character and depth to the book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A blockbuster

This book paints a most interesting picture of life in England on a vast canvas. It ranges from tales of royalty to those of mine workers living in abject poverty. The callousness of the English upper classes is well illustrated and the connections of the Kennedy clan to the English aristocracy and the tragic results of Catholic/Protestant bigotry was a revalation.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

A Tragic Dynastic Tale of Epic Proportions

Great writing, research, and splendid narration add tremendous weight to this real-life saga that surpasses any drama dreamed up by the Academy Award winning Julian Fellowes, creator of the sorely missed Downton Abbey. This is the story of the downfall of England's richest dynasty, owners of the largest cache of coal mines in Britain, hence the title Black Diamonds. The last son and heir, the flamboyantly reckless Peter, eighth Earl FitzWilliam, not only fathered children out of wedlock with several village teenagers, he made a bad marriage with an Irish heiress, to whom he was still married when he died in a 1948 plane crash at the side of the great love of his life: Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, beloved sister of JFK. This is a star-crossed tale that more than matches any mini-series for sheer entertainment, tragedy, scandal, and a colossal loss of power only a novelist could invent. The FitzWilliams are, however, England's forgotten dynasty. Yet it is not hard to imagine that they once rubbed shoulders with two of the world's most revered dynasties: the Kennedys and the Royal Family. Catherine Bailey has authored a grand masterwork of historical significance that is as riveting as it is tragic. A must read.

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Incredible

I very much enjoyed the amazing journey coming away with a deeper understanding of what makes history tick. Highly recommend.

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  • Overall
  • Colin
  • 02-19-09

Brilliant!

Having been a member of Audible for a couple of years i can easily say this is the best listen so far. It concerns the fortunes of a coal family who own the impressive Wentworth House.
The true story of this family is incredible, through birth, changelings, war and tradgedy, you couldn't make parts of it up. The story of Edgar Bower is heartbreaking. Get this book now, you won't stop talking about it. An Amazing book!

31 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • harriet
  • 09-24-12

Taught me stuff I didn't know - about coal!

I can only add to all the other glowing reviews - fantastic. Who'd have thought that the history of the coal industry could be so gripping. Essential listening for anyone who wants to understand the historical background, and the tale of the Wentworth family makes an enthralling structure to hang it on.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Rebecca
  • 02-05-10

I want more...

Oh, I so loved this book, I didn't want it to end. I thought it was going to be a straight retelling of the family dynasty, but it's so much more. The whole social upheaval of the pre and post first world war years were new to me and the way Catherine Bailey weaves the story delicately from working class to aristocracy, from miners and their emerging unions to government was pure joy. Don't be put off by thinking it will be a heavy tome. Just when you have reached the limit of government shenanigans against poorly paid miners, Catherine sneaks back to the Wentworth intrigues, hints of illegitimate children, destroyed marriage lines... and poor Kick Kennedy's dreadful hardline mother. This book kept me running on the treadmill so long , it should be on prescription from your doctor for it's calorie burning potential.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Parkyerbike
  • 06-29-09

A great listen

This isn't the type of thing i'd normally listen to, but after reading the reviews I thought I would give it a go. I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed the story and it was an excellent insight into the daily life of the times. A great listen, get it you won't be disappointed. I am now looking for a similar type for my next download.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Colin
  • 06-09-11

A real life Forsyte Saga

A fascinating book, beautifully written and superbly narrated, which traces the hisory of a great house, a noble family and the miners who worked for them against the backdrop of th monumental events of the first half of the 20th Century. This is social, political and industrial history told by a writer with a real flair fo bringing the past, and its people, to life. It is real life Forsyte Saga and given Catherine Bailey's career background I will keep my eyes peeled for the TV mini series!


Overall this is probably the best audiobook that I have had from Audible - I liked it so much that I subsequently bought the paperbook version for my partner to read. Which brings me to my one grumble - and the reason for 4 stars rather than 5; the physical book comes complete with a range of illustrations showing people and places mentioned in the text, all of which adds considerably to both interest an understanding. It is of course impossible to include such illustrations in an audiobook - but given the very high list price of this book (£39.99 against the £6.25 which I paid for the paperback from Amazon) is it too much to ask for the publisher to set up a linked website to provide access to illustrations? This grumble is of course common to most non-fiction audiobooks and it doesn't alter he fact that his is a superb listen.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ffion
  • 05-15-09

Absolutely Brilliant!

I downloaded this audio book on a bit of whim after seeing the other reviews for it and I wasn't dissapointed! I didn't know if the 14 hours listening time would be a bit long, but it was such an interesting listen I could have listened to it for longer than that. If only there where more books like this which combine real people's stories with the events of the the day, it gives history more context and gives you a better of understanding of how things are and how things were. Highly recommended to anyone interested in history and life, and of special interest to anyone living in yorkshire (which i do).

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Bookworm
  • 01-11-12

Fascinating

This book stayed on my wish list quite a while because usually biographies & memoirs are not my thing. But having listened to it eventually I am very glad I did. It is a fascinating book. The story of one of the grand English families and its country house and the of the coal mining industry, nicely intertwined. And beautifully read. One of the best books I downloaded.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • sandy
  • 02-20-12

Quite Simply The Best

This is the most interesting and beautifully read book in the Audible Library, i recommended it to many a friend and they all agree

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • 12-09-09

A Diamond of a Listen

The intertwined stories of the rise and fall of a great family and of the coal mining industry are grippingly told and very well read.

Unbelieveable as fiction, the fact that this is a true story makes for some jaw-dropping moments as well as capturing a slice of recent social history. "The Fosdyke Saga" it ain't! Recommended.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Carole
  • 04-04-09

Black Diamonds (Unabridged)

An excellent listen giving a great grasp of the social history of the time whilst being a riveting story. It kept me awake far too late into the nights but that's always a good complaint!

15 of 17 people found this review helpful