Do I have a book for you. Actually, several, and all about rubber history.
The rubber industry's past is full of amazing stories of adventure, profiteering, cutthroat tactics, glorious discoveries. Read these books and you'll be able to go beyond swapping lies about your golf game when you're hanging with your business brethren.
The first two got lots of play in the general media and good reviews: “The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire,” by Joe Jackson; and “Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City,” by Greg Grandin, featured in this issue.
Jackson's book is a well-researched, fascinating read about Henry Wickham, the Brit who stole 70,000 Hevea brasiliensis rubber seeds from Brazil in 1870. Ultimately it resulted in the creation of the Southeast Asian natural rubber industry, and changed the world. It's a non-fiction adventure story that goes far beyond the basic facts.
I just started reading Fordlandia, but I know all about the tale. Dorothy Gregg, our office receptionist and the best-read person here, gives a thumb's up for the story of Henry Ford's attempt to start a rubber empire in the Amazon. After reading the book, she also now gives a thumb's down on the great man himself. Not her kind of guy.
The book I really want to talk about, though, is 73 years old. “Rubber: A Story of Glory and Greed,” has been re-released by the publishing arm of Smithers Scientific Services Inc. I have an original copy of the book. The back is broken and the pages yellowed. To me, it's priceless.
I read this book long ago, when my predecessor, Ernie Zielasko, gave it to me as a reference tool for a special report we did about rubber chemists, published in honor of the ACS Rubber Division's 75th anniversary.
Ernie knew and admired Ralph Wolf, who wrote the book with his brother Howard. I admire the Wolf brothers' research and ability to tell a story. Be advised the writing style is a bit odd, so if you do obtain a copy, stick with it until you get used to their approach. It's worth it.
Glory and Greed gives an account of rubber from its origin in the wilds of South America to the mid-1930s. There are so many interesting anecdotes, from Akron's boom town days to how Seiberling lost control of Goodyear to the big discoveries in rubber.
The last sentence of the book is “Rubber's next historian is going to have a far longer labor story to tell.” The Wolfs were right, and that takes you to “The Once and Future Union,” about the United Rubber Workers, by our own managing editor, Bruce Meyer. And when you're finished with those, pick up “King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa,” by Adam Hochschild, about the Belgium king's atrocities involving NR in the Congo, a fine book. And round out your collection with Hank Inman's book, “Rubber Mirror,” his history of the ACS Rubber Division on its 100th anniversary.
Now you have an idea of what you want for Christmas.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.