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The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber


Paperback, 416 pages, 27 photographs
ISBN-13: 978-1-58367-231-0
Cloth (ISBN-13: 978-1-58367-232-7)
Released: February 2011
Also available as an e-book

Capital, as Marx once wrote, comes into the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” He might well have been describing the long, grim history of rubber. From the early stages of primitive accumulation to the heights of the industrial revolution and beyond, rubber is one of a handful of commodities that has played a crucial role in shaping the modern world, and yet, as John Tully shows in this remarkable book, laboring people around the globe have every reason to regard it as “the devil’s milk.” All the advancements made possible by rubber—industrial machinery, telegraph technology, medical equipment, countless consumer goods—have occurred against a backdrop of seemingly endless exploitation, conquest, slavery, and war. But Tully is quick to remind us that the vast terrain of rubber production has always been a site of struggle, and that the oppressed who toil closest to “the devil’s milk” in all its forms have never accepted their immiseration without a fight.

This book, the product of exhaustive scholarship carried out in many countries and several continents, is destined to become a classic. Tully tells the story of humanity’s long encounter with rubber in a kaleidoscopic narrative that regards little as outside its range without losing sight of the commodity in question. With the skill of a master historian and the elegance of a novelist, he presents what amounts to a history of the modern world told through the multiple lives of rubber.

This informative, lively synthesis demonstrates the cruel impact of this indispensable commodity within the globalized economy. Highly recommended.


John Tully’s The Devil’s Milk is a wonderfully fascinating social history of rubber’s terrors (including slavery and Nazi extermination camps) and pleasures (condoms, among others). Tully is an insightful historian and he narrates this centuries-long account of a commodity as essential to the modern world as oil or steel with great passion and compassion.

—Greg Grandin, author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City and professor of history, New York University

John Tully has produced a significant work that demands wide readership, consideration, and debate. Documenting capitalist hell, Tully serves as a captivating Virgil as he guides readers through rubber’s many layers. Dedicated to those who resisted and documented rubber’s atrocities, The Devil’s Milk serves as a forceful reminder that embedded within antagonism and conflict are multiple possibilities not only for the prolongation of this hell but also exit from it.

Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

This is a book that invokes Walter Benjamin’s famous dictum that there has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. It is a major achievement, and deserves a wide readership.

—Jeff Sparrow, editor, Overland

John Tully has done an extraordinary job tying together the disparate elements—historical, geographical, sociological, anthropological—of the rubber industry. From the Amazon to Akron, Ohio, from Mesoamerican civilizations to the present, The Devil’s Milk is filled with insight. Tully provides a deft treatment of a complicated and typically overlooked natural (and synthetic) resource that remains fundamental to the world economy. I strongly recommend it.

—John Borsos, Vice-president, National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW)

john tullyDr. John Tully is Honorary Professor, College of Arts, Victoria University in Melbourne Australia. He is author of three books: Cambodia Under the Tricolour: King Sisowath and the ‘Mission Civilisatrice,’ 1904-1927; France on the Mekong: A History of the Protectorate in Cambodia, 1863-1953; A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival; and two novels, Dark Clouds on the Mountain and Death Is the Cool Night.

Format Clear

Publication Date: February 2011

Number of Pages: 416

Paperback ISBN: 9781583672310

eBook ISBN: 9781583672617