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River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this fluid account, Levy narrates the story of the conquistadors who become the first Europeans to navigate the length of the Amazon River. After plundering the Inca empire, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco Orellana set out from Quito with an expedition of soldiers and Indian slaves in search of El Dorado. The two explorers became separated and the expedition quickly became lost in the jungle, then decimated by disease, starvation, and native attacks. Desperate, Orellana and the remaining conquistadors built a large boat and sailed downriver. Realizing that he would be unable to wait for Pizarro, Orellana set his sights on the Atlantic Ocean thousands of miles away. Levy does a fine job of organizing an enormous amount of historical material and balancing the accounts of Orellana and Pizarro after they separated. As one conflict follows another in rapid succession, they tend to blur into each other, though Levy provides enough descriptive detail and pacing to differentiate between the various native groups and aspects of the river. He also addresses the new archeological research that is changing our understanding of the cultures of the pre-Columbian Amazon Basin. (Mar.)
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Review

Praise for River of Darkness:

"River of Darkness immediately takes its place as the definitive book on one of the great voyages into the unknown of all time, Orellana's accidental first descent of the Amazon. Not only is it a solid contribution to the scholarly literature on Amazonia, but it is a riveting and irresistible read, narrative history of a literary quality rarely encountered that compares with Alan Moorehead's great books on the Nile. Bravissimo !" -- Alex Shoumatoff, contributing editor, Vanity Fair; publisher DispatchesFromTheVanishingworld.com,
and author of In Southern Light, The Rivers Amazon, and The World is Burning

“In River of Darkness, Buddy Levy proves that the scariest stories are the true ones.  Filled with fascinating details and the terror that comes with exploring something for the very first time, this is history coming back to life.”
- Brad Meltzer, Bestselling author of The Book of Fate and The Inner Circle
 
 
“Buddy Levy is one of those rare and gifted authors whose books are virtual time machines that effortlessly transport us back through centuries.  In River of Darkness, we participate in one of history’s signal explorations, Francisco Orellana’s descent of the Amazon River. We see blood, smell smoke, hear screams of joy and agony.  Levy’s impeccably researched book is at once harrowing adventure and revealing history. Better than any in recent memory, River of Darkness sheds new light—and reveals the darkest aspects—of the Conquistadors’ brave and bloody New World forays.”
-James M. Tabor, Author of Blind Descent:  The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth.
 
 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553807501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553807509
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Buddy Levy is a writer, educator, public speaker and entertainer. He is a co-star of the hit television series Brad Meltzer's DECODED on HISTORY, which ran for two seasons and is currently airing on H2.

As a writer Levy is the author of Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior (co-written with Mike Leach--Simon & Schuster, May 6, 2014); River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon (Bantam Dell, 2011). His other books include Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs (Bantam Dell, 2008), which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, 2009, and nominated for the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, 2009, and the PEN Center USA Award 2009; American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett (Putnam, 2005, Berkley Books, 2006); and Echoes On Rimrock: In Pursuit of the Chukar Partridge (Pruett, 1998). His books have been published in six languages.

As a freelance journalist he has covered adventure sports and lifestyle/travel subjects around the world, including several Eco-Challenges and other adventure expeditions in Argentina, Borneo, Europe, Greenland, Morocco, and the Philippines. His magazine articles and essays have appeared in Alaska Airlines Magazine, Backpacker, Big Sky Journal, Couloir, Discover, Hemispheres, High Desert Journal, Poets & Writers, River Teeth, Ski, Trail Runner, Utne Reader, TV Guide, and VIA. His books have been well reviewed in The A.V. Club, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Washington Times, Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. He is Clinical Professor of English at Washington State University, and lives in northern Idaho with his wife Camie, and his black Labs Dugan and CJ.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Jason Golomb VINE VOICE on March 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Buddy Levy's most recent two books have been histories focused on the Spanish conquest of the new world. With his latest release, "River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon," he's shown to be a master of taking complex historical events and creating consumable, interesting, reliable and accurate narratives.

Levy's "Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztec" was terrific. Cortes' conquest of the Aztecs is a complex story, and Levy's book synthesized the myriad of sources well and told an enlightening and engaging story.

In "Rivers of Darkness", Levy journeys south of Cortes' New Spain (Mexico), hops around the Inca Empire and travels the length of the mighty Amazon River following the travails of conquistador and explorer Francisco Orellana.

Orellana was actually a cousin to the Pizarro clan and, though a generation younger than Francisco Pizarro, established himself as a brave and loyal supporter of the Pizarro's during their conquest of the Incas in Peru. After providing a small army of support during a particularly tricky stage of the Inca conquest, Orellana was rewarded with a large land holding outside of modern Quito which, at the time, was part of the northernmost reaches of the Inca/Pizarro Empire.

Levy reviews key moments of Pizarro's foray into South America. Francisco Pizarro had been part of Cortes' conquest in Mexico, and he was Balboa's second-in-command when he discovered the Pacific Ocean. Adventure, glory and riches were ingrained on Francisco, as were the methods to achieve them. Taking a page from Cortes' book, Pizarro's entrance into Peru, and rapid conquest of the Incas, was aggressive and bold.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazonian55 on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Another good book by Buddy Levy. I found the first half a good read, then it picked up even more. The second half was a non-stop page turner. I recommend this book as part of a great trio of Spanish conquistadors in the new world: Levy's book on Cortez and the Aztecs and Mcquarrie's book on the Inca's are the other two. The only bad thing is when you quickly finish them because you just want more.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Paulo Reimann on March 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All books about Amazonian adventure, including the El Dorado, by Conquistadores or more into the modern times is great reading. The one just written by Buddy Levy is simply great. The book approaches a complex moment of history making it serious, historical and fun. The book is page turning from the start to the end (3 days along vacations), actually on a boat. Buddy Levy puts you in the picture of hardship of how the world, from the Andes to the Amazonian sea discharge was made. Great reading for historians and non. A must read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William J. Higgins,III on November 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
And to the uncharted, bug infested, plague-ridden Amazon jungles: to unknown primitive cultures, not to mention human endurance levels beyond imagination during the first discovery of this massive river system.

A gripping, mesmeric read. Could not turn the pages fast enough!

Mr. Levy's colorful and descriptive journalism illustrates the countless dangers, hardships and misfortunes experienced by these Spanish conquistadors throughout their total descent of the Amazon River in 1541-1542.

He brings to light the highly conjectural departure of Francisco Orellana from Gonzalo Pizzaro; contemporary times in South America and Spain; the never ending quest for El Dorado; treatment of indigenous people and especially how Orellana's and Pizzaro's conduct towards them were complete opposites, plus so much more within the pages of this stunning read.

For compelling high adventure in discovery and exploration, this book ranks right alongside Laurence Bergreen's "Over the Edge of the World" for the personal library.
Six stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lou Washington on February 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
History of exploration and conquest in Central and South America can get caught up in lots of political and social issues. This book avoids the temptation to editorialize on the relative righteousness of exploits and sticks with the actual activities and actions of these exploratory parties.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Grover VINE VOICE on May 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The description of Orellana's nightmarish voyage down the Amazon River is outstanding. Surrounded by Death and exotic dangers Orellana and his crew literally fought their way to the Atlantic from Peru. The research the author did in order to bring this long ago adventure to life is impressive. The reader learns a great deal about the Pizzaro brothers, Conquistadors in general, and men battling horrific conditions in order to survive. We also learn a good deal about the lives of the indigenous peoples who populated the Amazon in the 16th Century.

This is a page turning adventure story, and Orellana's voyage is one of histories greatest adventures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Anthony M. Frasca on May 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For students of history, we learn about Cortes conquering the Aztecs and Pizzaro conquering the Incas. This book explores the Spanish conquest of South America in depth. Things such as the fact that there were five Pizzaro brothers. In the end the book is really about Francisco Orellana descending the Amazon river from it's source in the Andes in the 1500's. Imagine crossing the Andes with an expedition of forces and animals. You get to the other side and begin descending into a rain forest with little food, few resources and numerous people to feed. The expedition had to construct bridges over cavernous chasms just to proceed. Then they had to descend the rivers feeding the Amazon proper. The expedition leader Gonzalo Pizzaro had his men build a boat from scratch. And when I say from scratch I mean they had to make their own nails! After building his boat, Pizzaro split up his force and sent his second in command to search for food. The boat, going downstream, quickly put days of distance between the main and secondary force. In the end Orellana was unable to get back up stream to help Pizzaro and it takes them some time before they are able to find a food source. Orellana was made leader of the secondary force according to Spanish law at the time. He made his way downstream and encountered numerous native populations along the way. In contrast to the bloody, brutal conquistador ways, Orellana tried diplomacy to woo the natives of the Amazon. For the most part it worked. He meet numerous native tribes and they help feed his expedition and educate him about the native South Americans.
Eventually Orellana had to build a second boat to continue descending the river as it got larger and wider.
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