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Seeds of Wealth: Four plants that made men rich Paperback – 7 Mar 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; 1st edition (7 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333903552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333903551
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,497,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Author

Like his classic work, Seeds of Change, Henry Hobhouse's new book deals with the effect of plants on humans and their past. But this new book, Seeds of Wealth, tells the story of four plants that made men rich, and how these plants inadvertently changed the course of history.

The four crops Hobhouse has chosen are timber, the wine grape, rubber and tobacco. These four were not picked out of a hat, their cultivation and consumption has had a profound and enduring effect on the world in general and, specifically, on those who grew or traded their fruits.

As early as Shakespeare's time, timber became deficient in England; this shortage promoted the use of coal before any other country. Shallow coal being soon exhausted, this dearth 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 colonies' great wood-wealth 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, made the change-over very effective. Vineyards, ancient and modern, have produced many times the gross output of traditional staple 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 original, provocative and full of new insights.

Rubber is an essential in many ways, used in planes, cars, bicycles, electricity, games and even condoms - all this from a 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 limitiation makes natural rubber still so fundamental.

Finally, there is tobacco, now very politically incorrect, but responsible for the affluence of Virginia, home of Founding Fathers. Virginia itself was only viable because of tobacco, the wealth of which created a colony that produced much of the wisdom that made Independence and, even more so, the Constitution feasible. The more recent tobacco story is less happy, one which cigarettes have dominated with known, sad consequences.

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

About the Author

Henry Hobhouse was born in Somerset in 1924 and educated at Eton. From 1946 to 1954 he worked as a journalist for The Economist, News Chronicle, Daily Express, and Wall Street Journal, becoming, in 1948, one of the first Directors of CBS-TV News. His other books are Forces of Change and Seeds of Change. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

Customer Reviews

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By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
This fascinating book looks at the causative role of plants in history. The cultivation of and trade in these plants created enormous wealth and changed the history of the world in many ways.
The chapter on timber is titled The Essential Carpet. In it, Hobhouse discusses how the shortage of timber in the United Kingdom led to the use of coal, which led to scientific advances and ultimately to the industrial revolution. On the other hand, the abundance of timber in the USA spurred the westward march of the country during the 1800s.
In The Grape's Bid For Immortality, the author discusses the growing of vines and making of wine from 600BC to the present. Wine has an enormous potential for the creation of wealth, multiplying nett profits wherever it is successful.
In the chapter Wheels Shod For Speed, he tells the story of rubber and how it changed the economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and indeed the world. More Than A Smoke is a fascinating account of how the colony and ultimately state of Virginia owes it wealth to tobacco. Initially this area had a monopoly on tobacco by decree of the king of England. This industry created a landlord class, which amongst them counted certain signatories of the Declaration of Independence, like Washington and Jefferson.
The book is full of fascinating facts and observations, for example that the original alkaline tobacco might not be harmful and that the acidity of modern cigarettes might be the root cause of the harmful effects of smoking on health.
Seeds Of Wealth is a truly engrossing book as it deals with politics, economics, global history and more particularly Anglo-American relations, and the role of nature in creating wealth and economic growth. The text contains black and white illustrations and the book concludes with a bibliography and an index.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's alright but could have been a lot better in my opinion. There is often a loss of focus and, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ambition of the book, often feels as through the author is trying to document all of his knowledge on the subject. The result is that I felt assaulted with a barrage of facts, whereas a more focused account would have been more illuminating.

Although the description says the book sets out to tell the history of the world through the crops and their impact, in reality most of the chapters are basically a whistlestop tour through major events in the history of the crop instead. Again, it would have been more interesting to take a narrower focus and discuss the role of the crop in one or two specific events, for example. The timber chapter is probably the best. The wine chapter is most disappointing in this regard.

On style, it's occasionally a bit pompous but generally alright. As noted by another reviewer, the constant sniping at various types really starts to grate. Those that suffer as the author tells us how things really are include "modern greens", "theoretical ecologists", those who don't realise how beneficial (author's opinion) the British empire was to the colonised peoples etc.

I have enjoyed The Nature Of Crops by John Warren and Two Blades of Grass by Peter Thoday as much more satisfying books on a similar subject.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I managed the first two chapters, and I'd had enough. The chapter on timber I did enjoy, but then it tailed off. He clearly doesn't like 'environmentalists', and authors who make gratuitous sideswipes irritate me intensely, whoever they are aimed at. While the book carried an authoritative tone, I was left wondering where he'd got his information from and how many other axes he was more quietly grinding.
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Format: Paperback
As a follow-up to his previous work, Henry Hobhouse has provided another unique and fascinating approach to historical interpretation in the latest fruit of his labor--Seeds of Wealth.
His chapters on timber and tobacco are providing seeds for thought for the Virginia Historical Society to consider doing a museum exhibition on the subject. One of the strengths of Hobhouse's work is his successful use of geography. We Americans have tended to overlook the good work of the historical geographers, while scholars in the UK, like Hobhouse, have taken advantage of their unique perspective of the past. His two works-- Seeds of Change and now Seeds of Wealth--are good examples of putting that discipline to its best use. It's too bad that Seeds of Wealth is not yet available for distribution here in the States.
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