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The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes Hardcover – October 18, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Reviewer: Jon Lee Anderson on The Unconquered

In an age when there is little left in the world that can be said to be still "virgin," contemporary travel literature has come to seem increasingly derivative, even farcical. The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes is a rare exception, an original that works on several levels. Scott Wallace has sensitively documented the immensity, history, the terror, and the beauty of one of the world's last true wildernesses and the people who live within it. This is a wonderful book: deeply moving, riveting by turns, laced with finely wrought passages.

On the one hand, The Unconquered is the account of a nightmarish three-month expedition into the Amazon jungle in 2002 led by the irascible Brazilian wilderness explorer Sydney Possuelo, a legendary defender of the region's last uncontacted Indians. Rife through with moments of danger, loneliness, and hunger, as well as the testosterone-fuelled dramas that seem peculiar to groups of men undergoing hard times together, The Unconquered makes a spellbinding tale of real-life high-adventure.

This is also the account of an equally fascinating inward journey taken by its author, the American journalist Scott Wallace, who originally joined Possuelo on his trek in order to write about his journey for National Geographic. In this book, Wallace, who renders memorable portraits of his fellow expeditionaries (the cook, Mauro, haunted by nightmares about monkeys who castrate him; Soldado the backwoods scout, who refuses to return home and see his aging mother) is also brutally honest about himself. Recently divorced, Wallace sets off into the jungle just shy of his forty-eighth birthday; he is out-of-shape, guilt-ridden for not having said goodbye to his three young sons, and fretful about the implications of a prolonged separation with his new girlfriend.

The main character of The Unconquered, however, is Sydney Possuelo, a larger-than-life figure who emerges as a kind of Indian Jones- meets latter-day Bartolome de las Casas. Some years before Wallace met him, Possuelo, Brazil's best-known sertanista, or "agent of contact" with the Amazon's isolated indigenous people, had undergone a crisis of conscience about the destruction wrought by his life's work. He had become instead the main proponent of a no-contact policy for the Amazon's remaining "uncontacted" tribes. He had lobbied for and secured the designation of a vast Maine-sized tract of Amazonian wilderness called the Javari Valley Indigenous Land, to be closed off to all outsiders in perpetuity. It was the refuge of several uncontacted tribes hostile to outsiders, including the implacable flecheiros, the Arrow People, whose territory Possuelo planned to explore.

The motives behind Possuelo's 2002 expedition seemed nonetheless obscure, even contradictory. As Possuelo explained it to Wallace, he wished to gather vital information about the flecheiros and to ascertain their wellbeing, but could only do so by penetrating their sanctuary on foot and by dugout canoe with a band of armed men, while at the same time seeking to avoid contact with them. During the journey itself, the inescapable Catch-22 of Possuelo's logic became more and more apparent until the moment, retold dramatically by Wallace, when the expeditionaries blundered inevitably through a flecheiro settlement, spreading panic as they went.

In the end, The Unconquered is the unforgettable story of a troubled journey through a doomed landscape, its characters—the outsiders and the Indians—locked together in an ever-tightening fatal embrace by their respective needs and compulsions.

At one point in the book, Possuelo points to a path they have slashed out of the jungle with their machetes and tells Wallace: "Five years from now, you will never know we were here." But Wallace is unconvinced, and notes ruefully: "It was doubtful the Arrow People would forget us so easily."

Jon Lee Anderson is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine. His books include: “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life,” “The Fall of Baghdad,” and “The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan.” Anderson began his reporting career in 1979, in Peru. In 2009, he won an Overseas Press Club Award for his reporting on Rio de Janeiro’s gangland.


"Wallace's foreboding is matched by his sense of wonder." – New York Times Book Review

"Astonishing." – The London Sunday Times

"A rousing adventure tale." – Wall Street Journal

"Wallace's gripping account takes us upriver to a place very few outsiders have ever seen." – The Boston Globe

"What a great book! An adventure story worthy of Joseph Conrad or Peter Matthiessen." – The Oregonian

“Rousing.” – TIME
"Startlingly novelistic." –

“It’s easy to picture The Unconquered being made into a movie.” – Washington Post Express
"Masterful...positively cinematic." – Yale Alumni Magazine

 “An eye-opening read…one of the most gripping pieces of non-fiction around…. You’ll swear you are reading a thriller novel.” – Guernica
“Dream assignment or nightmare? An editor from National Geographic asked journalist Scott Wallace to join an expedition into the deepest wilds of the Amazon jungle to find the mysterious ‘People of the Arrow.' While the experience was pretty much a nightmare, it’s a blessing for readers of Wallace's fascinating book.” — Associated Press
“Echoing Amazonia’s earliest European explorers, Wallace crafts a tale that is part gripping adventure story, part window into the unexpected complexities of a developing country where uncontacted tribes stand between a resource-hungry economy and an area abounding in natural wealth.” – Indian Country Today
“Rife with poachers, drug smugglers, illegal gold miners and violent tribes already acquainted with the dangers of modern life…Wallace describes the trek in vivid, if unsettling, terms.” – Maclean’s
“Wallace joins the tribe of jungle-besotted literary types led by Redmond O'Hanlon and David Grann and presents a credibly incredible tale about his voyage past the edge of modernity.” – Huffington Post
"A gripping tale of adventure." – Washingtonian

“While it’s hard to imagine that ‘stone-age’ tribes still persist in a world of cell phones, satellites and social media, it’s even harder to understand how difficult it is to police these isolated regions, to keep them free of outsiders who could endanger a way of life that has nearly disappeared…Wallace’s narrative is apt and penetrating.” – SEJournal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (October 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030746296X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307462961
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Scott Wallace is currently a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Scott is also an award-winning writer and photojournalist and a National Geographic contributor. His assignments have taken him from clandestine arms bazaars in post-Soviet Russia to midnight raids on fedayeen hideouts in the slums of Baghdad, and from combat operations in the Nicaraguan jungles to shepherd camps high in the windswept Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. A former correspondent for CBS News, Newsweek, and the Guardian, Scott has undertaken five major assignments for National Geographic to the depths of the Amazon to report on the disruptive effects of logging, oil exploration, and agriculture expansion on the rainforest and its tribal communities. His writings on armed conflict, the environment, and vanishing cultures have also appeared in Smithsonian, Harper's, National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Traveler, the Village Voice, and Sports Afield. His photography has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, and Outside, among many others, and his television producing credits include CBS, CNN, and National Geographic Channel. He is a recipient of the Explorers Club's prestigious Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in reporting from the field. He has three sons and splits his time between Colorado and Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Mr. Wallace portrays factual events in an exciting way such that one becomes involved with the characters in the book.
Another interesting aspect of the book is the wealth of background information and facts that are well researched and cited in the notes.
Stan Caldwell
Scott Wallace weaves a story of an expedition he undertook at the last minute with a man by the name of Sydney Possuelo.
John F. Sweeney

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Gentleheart TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is amazing. Once I picked it up I could hardly put it down. It is a vivid account of a hair-raising, death-defying, real life adventure. That alone would be enough for a great read, but this book is so much more. It is also a record of the current conditions of the flora and fauna of the most dangerous, most inaccessible parts of the Amazon and the tribes who live among them. And it is a thoughtful contemplation of where indigenous tribes and unexploited wilderness fit in the modern world, including the challenges of assimilation or its opposite, total isolation and non-contact. This is a book that really made me think.

Scott Wallace spent three months - the entire summer of 2002 -- with the brilliant, dictatorial, obsessive Sydney Possuelo and his highly diverse band of Indians and whites as they traveled by riverboat, by canoe, and on foot through parts of the Amazon that are off-limits to all but indigenous peoples and a handful of government officials. The expedition's objective was to gather information while getting as close as possible to the Arrow People, an uncontacted tribe known for its effective use of curare-poisoned arrows, without running into them or being killed by them.

Over the course of the expedition and the book, Wallace gets to know the 34 men who made the expedition under Possuelo's iron-fisted leadership. Most impressive is Valdeci Rios, called Soldado (the soldier), whose backwoods expertise, superhuman strength, and wide-ranging abilities in the face of every challenge will make your jaw drop. Soldado is eventually laid low for a time by malaria, but his response to this gruesome disease adds to the reader's sense that he is a man who can overcome all obstacles. As a group, the other members of the expedition are also astonishing.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Brenda Frank VINE VOICE on September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Scott Wallace is a seasoned National Geographic journalist experienced in wars, revolutions, and the struggles of native tribes in the Amazon, the Arctic, and the Andes. "The Unconquered" tells of his 78-day journey in 2002 with Brazilian explorer and activist Sydney Possuelo working for the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (FUNAI) to establish the location of the uncontacted Flecheiros, the Arrow People, while NOT contacting them. The objective was to obtain information to protect these isolated, uncontacted native people from the encroachment of White Men and civilization, including diseases, illegal logging and gold mining, poaching and drug trafficking. The risk of contact also threatened the team in that the Flecheiros are known as skilled archers killing intruders with poison-tipped arrows.

The team, led by Possuelo, contained 34 men, including Indians of the three tribes neighboring the Flecheiros and Brazilian frontiersmen. The Flecheiros' territory is a very remote area of Brazil, with no roads, only rivers and jungle. The explorers took motorboats as far as they could, then trekked through the jungle, covering 250 miles. They carried all their equipment through the jungle, some men with as much as 100 pounds on their backs, making trails with machetes.

The isolation in the jungle was complete; the sky disappeared. If Wallace lost sight of the person before him, he immediately became lost. The dense canopy rendered useless the GPS, a two-way radio and the satellite phone. The explorers had no recourse in case of serious illness or injury; no medical personnel accompanied them.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on August 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a day by day, sometimes hour by hour documentary of a 3 month trek through the Amazon with brilliant, infamous, & controversial Sydney Possuello and his crew - 34 men total. Possuello invited National Geographics journalist Scott Wallace and photographer Nicolas Reynard along to document the trip - both hand-picked because of their extensive experience working in the Amazon. Journalists and photographers were usually excluded on these trips but Possuello sought world-wide media coverage for his cause. His stated purpose was to document on the ground the presence of isolated and uncontacted tribes and their villages as seen from the air - counteracting assertions of loggers and others who want to deny these tribes exist - landgrabs have been historically justified by the claim that no one was there. Possuello also had several secondary purposes concerning monitoring of possible illegal activity in the reserve.

*The official Brazilian approach, championed by Possuello, was to prevent contact with any of the 20-30 known isolated tribes - some 4,000 Indians - that thrive in the deepest parts of the Amazon. This approach also placed millions of acres out of reach from the logging, fishing, and gold-prospecting industries - and shutting out missionaries and anthropologists. Possuello had a lot of enemies.

*Possuello's primary rationale for the no contact policy was the Indians' extreme vulnerability to contagious disease. Like the North American and South American Indians during the times of Columbus and other explorers, the indigenous populations simply had no resistance to the germs whites carried. Other reasons included the inevitable decline if not eradication of every tribe after contact, regardless of whether the contact was friendly or hostile.
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