Seeds of Wealth: Four Plants That Made Men Rich

Overview

Following the widely celebrated Seeds of Change (1985) comes Seeds of Wealth, a collection of four elegant essays focusing on the economic and cultural consequences of the exploitation of timber, tobacco, rubber, and the wine grape. These cash crops have bound together trade relations for the past three centuries and have had a profound-if little noted-effect on our world. As early as Shakespeare's time, timber became deficient in England; this shortage prompted their use of coal before any other country. Shallow...
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Seeds of Wealth : Four Plants that Made Men Rich

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Overview

Following the widely celebrated Seeds of Change (1985) comes Seeds of Wealth, a collection of four elegant essays focusing on the economic and cultural consequences of the exploitation of timber, tobacco, rubber, and the wine grape. These cash crops have bound together trade relations for the past three centuries and have had a profound-if little noted-effect on our world. As early as Shakespeare's time, timber became deficient in England; this shortage prompted their use of coal before any other country. Shallow coal was soon exhausted, and the growing need led to the mining of deeper coal, which made essential the pumping of underground water, which in turn involved the use of steam power. This initiated the coal-steam-iron phase of the Industrial Revolution, fifty years earlier than in any other country. In the British North American colonies, in contrast, the entrepreneurial use of the large supply of timber helped engender the revolution of rich men, which resulted in the war of Independence. As a consequence the new nation was, and remains, wealthier than European countries.

Given the right conditions, the wine grape flourishes as an alternative to grain. Ancient Greece and modern New Zealand, two economies 2,500 years apart, effectively managed the changeover. Vineyards, ancient and modern, have produced many times the gross output of traditional wheat fields. Good wine, Hobhouse argues, makes people wealthy as well as mellow and wise. He deals with the story of wine grapes in a way that is provocative and full of original insights. Rubber is an essential in many ways, used in planes, cars, bicycles, electricity, games, condoms-all this from an Amazonian tree only "discovered" after Columbus and only cultivated a century ago. Hobhouse traces the effects on the world economy of this most industrialized of plants, and describes rubber's integral part in the building of three countries-Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The synthetic rubber industry is also thoroughly explored, explaining how its one curious technical limitation makes natural rubber still so fundamental.

Finally, there is tobacco, now very politically incorrect, but responsible for the early affluence of the new American colonies. Virginia itself, home to many of the most important Founding Fathers, was only viable because of tobacco. But our more recent tobacco story is less happy, the story now dominated by cigarettes with their well-known devastating consequences.

Seeds of Wealth offers proof of how the seemingly irrelevant can have widespread unintended consequences. In presenting global history from his own perspective, Henry Hobhouse offers an overview of how nature has unwittingly contributed to the creation of human wealth and economic growth.

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
Five agricultural products?—?timber, wine grapes, rubber, and tobacco, along with coffee (added to this newest edition)?—?have had an enormous impact on the history of the world. Two (timber and tobacco) reflected the changing fortunes of Britain and the United States. Timber and its rampant use for construction and fuel probably added significantly to global warming. Rubber and winemaking were influential in other areas of the world, like Singapore and Ancient Rome, and coffee brings the Arab world into the picture, but all these products have had significant impact on the United States. The author notes that one thing they have in common, beyond the fact that each stimulated or was crucial in wars, was that they have been a boon for "tax gatherers." Hobhouse has also written a related book, Seeds of Change and, although a journalist by trade, he has become an authority on the impact of plants on the history of the world. Because this book is written in an extremely readable style, it would be a good addition to any school library. Students will use it as a reference in history, political science, economics and science classes. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Shoemaker & Hoard, 313p. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 12 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593760892
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 1/9/2006
  • Pages: 313
  • Sales rank: 1,421,943
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Timber : the essential carpet 3
Wine : the grape's bid for immortality 69
Rubber : wheels shod for speed 125
Tobacco : more than a smoke 189
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