09 October 2008

The Thief at the End of the World review by Denis Minev

The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire
by Joe Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Availability: In Stock

5.0 out of 5 stars An epic about rubber and its historyAugust 4, 2008
Rubber would not at first seem like such an exciting product. However, the history of it, from La Condamine's first samples brought from the Amazon to France to the momentous steal of seeds by Wickham (main character of the book) to Kew Gardens and later to Malaysia, is a truly outstanding saga of what would today be known as biopiracy but was at the time simply the obligation to serve the British crown. 

The economic collapse left behind by rubber in the Amazon is coupled with the progress brought upon the British colonies in southeast Asia. The book contemplates the history of why rubber (along with coal and steel) became such a valuable material desired and needed for much of the industrial and railroad revolution. The bottleneck was supply of rubber, which came from the tree in not too reachable circumstances in the Amazon. Wickham and the British crown sought to make it more productive and widely available (hence cheaper). 

In the midst of it all is the curious Wickham character - part idealist, part opportunist, who would eventually sacrifice everything (family, love, etc.) chasing dreams across the world from the Amazon to New Guinea. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is widely knowledgeable about the Amazon and would like more info on this singular event that changed its history.

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