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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 1998
I agree wholeheartedly with the rave reviews for this book and it has become one of my favorites (I even sent it to an ethnobotanist in Yap as a must read). Not only is it wonderfully well-written, and not only does it address crucial ecological concerns, but it is an exciting account of Plotkin's effort to identify and explore the medical possibilities of Amazonian plants, while preserving the indigineous lore about their uses, both medicinal and spiritual; the discovery and adoption of plants by Europeans and North Americans, and Plotkin's own adventures. I found some it so fascinating on so many levels I'd read it to my family (okay, I know that may be obnoxious, but I couldn't restrain myself). It's thought-provoking, important and absolutely fascinating. Can't recommend it highly enough!!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 1999
Reading this changed my perspective on Western civilization forever. One example is the author's revelation that the indiginous peoples weren't hunter-"gatherers" at all, but rather gardeners of the world's remaining Eden, inheritors of an agricultural tradition far more ancient and advanced than ours. I was stunned by the realization that Western agriculture's monocultures of neat little rows laid out in a landscape of squares is the simplistic imposition of a human order on a far more complex natural order- an order that the Amazonian tribes incorporate in the design of their jungle-garden. A mindblowing paradigm shift awaits you, especially if you bring some knowledge of complex adaptive systems and/or Periodic Equilibrium evolution to this lucid journal. And this amazing personal account is a ripping good yarn. The only thing this book needs is a follow-up epilog, a "where are they now" of the pharmaceuticals, the shamans, the tribes, and the author's efforts to save them from extinction. A warning: Rereading this book in the summer of '98 while watching the rainforests of Indonesia and Mexico burn deeply depressed me. It was like a thousand libraries of Alexandria going up in smoke. Future generations will never forgive us.
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53 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2005
I have recently written a review of Plotkin's book, which was taken off these pages - apparently simply because I disagreed with the author's assertions, conclusions and motives. I wouldn't go so far as to claim Amazon.com engages in censorship, but this action does lead me to believe some of the ratings may be skewed.

I ahve two basic criticisms of this book: (1) The title is misleading. There was no apprenticeship involved - Plotkin learnt no ceremonies and no cures. He is not a shaman by any stretch of imagination.

(2) He is one of the hundreds of ethnobotanists who case the Amazon in search of clinically active plants; these people are no bleeding hearts - they do it for pharmaceutical industry, which generally pays a pittance to the indigenous people from whom the knowledge was taken. Plotkin himself was engaged with a such a company, called aptly enough, Shaman Pharmaceuticals.

Now I think this is fair to lay out in a review, don't you? In my mind, Plotkin exemplifies a self-righteous attitude with which Westerners venture into contact with indigenous peoples, all too often under the guise of conservancy and environmental activism.... and then write books about it. I frankly cannot see what Plotkin had to do with apprenticeship to Amazonian shamans and if this is enough to censor my review - well so be it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 1998
"Everything you wanted to know about entering the Brazilian Rainforest, and more" could be the subtitle of this unusual but riveting nonfiction work Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice by an ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin.
Remember those naming games you played on summer nights? "If you were on a desert island, but could have one book with you, what would it be?" When I go up the Amazon, I'll be carrying this little tome under my arm.
Before then, I will enjoy the adventure story and recommend it to others; use the bibliography for further research on the history of the rainforest; make lists of the flora, especially medicinal remedies, mentioned; trace along a map the various routes Plotkin took on his travels through Brazil, Surinam, and along the borders of Colombia and Venezuela. I could teach a year-long course based on the information in this book. What an English course that would be with all the links to ecology, botany, language studies, sociology, anthropology, survival training, medicine--the list goes on.
Am I enthusiastic about Plotkin's work? It is the best book I have read in years even though, teaching literature, I read many fine books. It has affected me the way some people are converted by religion. If you have ever held a thoughtful concern for the rainforest or indigenous peoples or our earth or oxygen, it will affect you, too.
Using a scholarly approach to his highly readable story makes this accessible to professional botanists or historians as well as to us lay people. The photographs each speak their thousand words and are worth the price of the book in themselves. What Rachel Carson did for the dangers of environmental pollution, Mark Plotkin does for the destruction of the fragile rainforest.
Another game you played on summer nights--asking impossible questions like "If a tree fell in a forest, but no one were there to hear it, would it create a sound?" Plotkins makes indelibly clear the effect the fallen trees of the rainfore! sts have on us all.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2000
Mark Plotkin takes the reader on a journey to the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Suriname, along the way teaching about rainforest ecology, the medicinal plants and rituals of shamans, indigenous cultures, and his own scientific methods. Although his prose is at times tedious and repetitive, the story itself is a fascinating one, and his determination to give something back to the people of the region is admirable. The story unfolds in a way that allows the reader to understand what is happening to the rainforest both culturally and ecologically, and it offers not merely a criticism of western society but a set of reasonable solutions that could benefit the region, not just ecologically but economically. Plotkin is a responsible researcher whose work should be a model for future ethnobotanists.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2001
I just wanted to say that this book lead me in a new direction in life. i am a medical student with no direction and this helped me realize that there is so much of value out there that we have yet even to discover let alone understand. I am not saying that everyone should have this book, rather letting others know that this book is beautiful and rich. Easy reading and powerfully amazing. There are no bad trips, only experiences. Enjoy, John
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
What secrets lay hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest? The Shamans of the indigenous tribes know quite a bit, and most of them aren't telling. This book serves as a play by play guide to one scientist's journeys into the tropical rain forest, the Indians he encounters, and the lessons he learns (some the hard way) about the healing and sometimes deadly powers of trees, flowers and shrubs.

Filled with interesting geographical, historical and scientific facts and colorful descriptions, you'll never look at medicine, stimulants and supplements again without imagining their humble origins in plants you might just as easily dismiss as weeds.

The author bemoans the loss of the rainforests and the Westernization of the indigenous peoples of the Guianas, yet his mission is to promote further research and increased use of native plants by the huge pharmaceutical industry, a goal that if achieved will lead to large scale harvesting of the botanical and human resources in this dwindling and fragile eco-system.

On the bright side, his studies and published research serve as an irreplaceable guide to the flora of the region - knowledge that is now being lost as the elders pass to the other world, and the young Indians play Nintendo and listen to Britney Spears, thanks to the influences of "civilization".

What I found disappointing (and I may be slightly biased here) was that he mentions just a few of the many tribes of Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil and Venezuela, largely leaving out Guyana, except for extensively quoting from renowned explorers like Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk and Barrington Brown, both of whom contributed significantly to his research through their published work on British Guiana. Indian groups in Guyana include the Makusí (Macussí or Macushí), Warao (Warrau), Arawak, Carib, Wapisiana (Wapishana), Arecuna, the mixed "Spanish Arawak" of the Moruka River, and many more in the forest areas, and should have been worth a mention or two.

Other than that, the narrative gets a bit bogged down in places, there is quite a bit of repetition, and after a while you can't tell your "ah-kah-de-mah" from your "ah-tuh-ri-mah". There's also the little detail that the author cannot honestly claim to be a Shaman's Apprentice, as there was no such thing while he was doing his research.

Having said that, his descriptions of the flora and fauna seem fairly accurate, as are his accounts of the hunting and fishing activities of the tribes, and he should consider himself a lucky man to have been afforded the opportunity to experience the way of life of our indigenous peoples that most people will never be able to see.

Amanda Richards, November 5, 2005
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 1997
Why is this book great? Two words: reads well. Many people, like myself, see scientific books as dull and hard to follow because of a general lack of knowledge regarding the subject of the book. Plotkin, however, does a great job of making this book fun to read, for the people who know nothing about how plants work in producing their healing chemicals, to knowledgeable botanists who could have contributed to this book as well. This book reads like a story, and Plotkin does a great job of weaving tidbits of humor into this journal of everyday life among the Indians of Amazonia. His humorous stories in this book are refreshing interjections to the detailed descriptions of plant life, as well. All in all, I greatly recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered how indigenous people in the rainforest are able to survive in today's world
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1999
This book gives you a need to go down to South America and experience the things that the author has written so well about, he gives someone such an urge and strong emotions when writing of the tribes danger of extinction
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2005
Readers will be engaged and enthralled at the journey of a young man from disaffected youth to inspired ethnobotanist. This is the true story of Mark Plotkin who, while working as a janitor at Harvard (shades of "Good Will Hunting"!) began attending lectures by Dr. Richard Schultes, the late father of ethnobotany, and became engaged in a journey of discovery, and a lifelong quest to help the Indians of the Amazon Rainforest.

Perhaps most heartening of all is the message of hope at the end. And the good news for those who loved this book as much as I did is that Plotkin's quest to make a difference continues: he and the Indians mentioned in the book have worked together to map and protect 24 million acres of ancestral rainforest (check out the website at [...] Here's a man - and a book - who have really made a difference!
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