The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire

The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire

by Joe Jackson

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The amazing tale of one of history's most daring acts of biopiracy-and how it changed history

In this thrilling real-life account of bravery, greed, obsession, and ultimate betrayal, award- winning writer Joe Jackson brings to life the story of fortune hunter Henry Wickham and his collaboration with the empire that fueled, then abandoned him. In 1876, Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds out of the rainforests of Brazil and delivered them to Victorian England's most prestigious scientists at Kew Gardens. The story of how Wickham got his hands on those seeds-and the history-making consequences-is the stuff of legend. The Thief at the End of the World is an exciting true story of reckless courage and ambition that perfectly captures the essential nature of Great Britain's colonial adventure in South America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101202692
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 270,585
File size: 693 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Joe Jackson is the author of four works of nonfiction and a novel. He was an investigative reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot for 12 years, covering criminal justice and the state’s death row. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be reached through his website,

Table of Contents

Prologue: Henry's Dream 1

Part I The Need

1 The Fortunate Son 19

2 Nature Belongs to Man 34

3 The New World 53

4 The Mortal River 75

5 Instruments of the Elastic God 100

Part II The Source

6 The Return of the Planter 119

7 The Jungle 136

8 The Seeds 153

9 The Voyage of the Amazonas 173

Part III The World

10 The Edge of the World 197

11 The Talking Cross 217

12 Rubber Madness 237

13 The Vindicated Man 263

Epilogue: The Monument of Need 291


I World Rubber Production, 1905-1922 305

II The World's Rubber Requirements, 1922 306

III New York Price Quotations for Crude Rubber 307

Glossary 309

Notes 313

Bibliography 363

Acknowledgments 391

Index 397

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Joe Jackson has written a compelling story of science and politics."
-The Dallas Morning News

"An exhilarating narrative, sweeping us through great discoveries and international rivalries."
-Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men

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Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wickham is the Prince of Thieves In this work of historical non-fiction, Joe Jackson reconstructs the life of Sir Henry Wickham, imperial adventurer, British entrepreneur, and bio-pirate extraordinaire. Set in Victorian Britain, the age of Empire, the story of the rise of rubber and how the British empire managed to monopolize the world's supply is intriguing enough, although I did find Wickham's personal life story rather bland.Jackson spends a lot of time in the Amazon jungle, as he should, explaining the rather complicated process of tapping rubber trees for latex and the vulcanization process that transforms it into the formidable end-product that we all know and can't live without. Finally, Wickham hatches a plot to smuggle thousands of seeds. Although he succeeds, Wickham personally nets few benefits and spends the rest of his life in the margins of the British empire searching to replicate his rubber discovery but ending up only with fools gold losing his entire family in the process.The book is long and in certain portions, Jackson goes off on tangents talking about the growth of rubber in British Malaya, in Belgian Congo, and others. I personally found these histories more fascinating than any of Wickham's various failed ventures.Overall, I felt this was an informative read and the narrative is good enough to keep one captivated throughout. A little long, but definitely worth it to get all the way through it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago