John Zubrzycki, an Australian journalist, gained some fame when he wrote ‘The Last Nizam‘, a book about Mukarram Jah, his rise and subsequent fall. While that book was based on the Nizams of Hyderabad, his book ‘The Mysterious Mr. Jacob’, published by Random House India, is about Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a controversial diamond merchant, and how the Imperial Diamond contributed to his downfall.
The book is part biography and part thriller as the author delves deeper into the court case that started Alexander Jacob’s downfall. Alexander Malcolm Jacob is reported to have been an enigmatic and shrewd business man who practiced magic and illusions and cultivated a strong information network. The author talks about his past, the different versions of how he came to India and became a famous man.
Alexander Jacob owed much of his wealth to the benevolence of the Indian princes, known for competing against each other for status and the chance to show off their wealth by spending extravagantly on precious gems and artifacts from traders like Jacob. He accumulated great wealth on the commission he made from each item sold to these princes and the Britishers staying in India at that time. He also created a hype around myself by exaggerating the ‘adventure’ quotient of his beginnings in India. The illusions which he performed, added to his charisma, such that it was difficult to say no to anything.However, his lucks changed one day when he came to know of the Imperial Diamond. He soon realized that the commission made on this diamond would set him up for life and he would never have to work again.
The book is an interesting read. It tries to be neutral but puts Jacob on a pedestal at several places. The author has, no doubt, put in a lot of work, sifting through old British-era government documents, old newspapers in libraries, visiting each of the places that Jacob spent time in, in order to trace the eventful life of this enigmatic person. The book also reveals a fair bit of politics that the Britishers indulged in, to protect their interests in India. It also paints a picture of ‘society’ during the time the British reigned in India, especially the life of Rajahs and the power that they still enjoyed, in that period.
On the whole, the book keeps you interested in it, till the end. If you are interested in history, this book needs to be read!
Note: A copy of this book was provided by Random House India for an honest review.