Friday March 6th, 2015, 1:00 am (EST)

The Devil's Milk reviewed in CHOICE

The following review appeared in the November 2011 issue of CHOICE

The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber by John Tully, Monthly Review Press, 2011

Tully (politics and history, Victoria Univ., Australia), narrates the unhappy story of rubber’s incorporation into the industrializing world, ranging across the centuries of sacrifices of life and spirit in extracting and processing “the devil’s milk.” Predictably, his work exposes an all-too-human record of avarice, cruelty, and suffering against a background of environmental degradation. Focusing on the economically motivated enslavement of indigenous peoples in Asia, Africa, and the Americas who gathered the raw material and on the brutal conditions of the industrial workers who produced it, Tully tells how tycoons, taskmasters, and consumers joined in creating a global demand for rubber products: insulation, belts, and hoses; devices for intimate relationships; and, ubiquitously, tires for transportation. Imperialistic warring economies of necessity struggled to control rubber or create suitable alternatives. Particularly sharp-edged is the author’s description of the horrendous slave-labor camps that supplied synthetic rubber for the Nazi military juggernaut. Less the product of Tully’s own archival research than of his wide-ranging accumulation of detailed secondary accounts from anthropologists, economists, and historians (although the text is sprinkled with gems drawn from primary sources), this informative, lively synthesis demonstrates the cruel impact of this indispensable commodity within the globalized economy. Strongly recommended for general readers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. – D. R. Skopp, emeritus, Plattsburgh SUNY