- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st Edition edition (November 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691048851
- ISBN-13: 978-0691048857
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In Amazonia: A Natural History 1st Edition Edition
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Co-Winner of the 2003 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology and American Anthropological Association
Honorable Mention for the 2004 Sharon Stephens First Book Prize, American Ethnological Society
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003
A new classic of the Amazon. . . . In a sweeping panorama of the history of the Amazon . . . Raffles impresses with his enormous scholarship and lyrical language. . . . [T]he range of Raffles's knowledge is exquisitely broad. What we thought we knew of the Amazon and the reasons for its devastation will forever be changed by this rapturous soliloquy on the region. (Choice)
[It draws] upon a range of literature not typical of Amazonian studies. Specialists and general readers will appreciate the scope.---Stephen Nugent, Journal of Latin American Studies
A central challenge in studies of the Amazon region is apprehending its social and natural diversity. This book is amongst the most readable and penetrating analyses we have. . . . The tension between being in a place and always on the move, between dissolution and creation, are ambiguities this book manages to capture with deftness and subtlety. It would have been enough to write about this in one locality, but to have done so connecting up various places and people, and across time transforms the argument into a major achievement.---Mark Harris, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
"Without question this is the best book about the Amazon I have read in many years. It is a major contribution to the literature (in every sense) of the region, to the history and sociology of science, and to anthropology in general. Solid, beautifully written, beautifully judged and paced, it has a great deal to offer those knowing everything or nothing about the Amazon."―David Cleary, Amazon Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy, author of Anatomy of the Amazon Gold Rush
"Thoroughly researched and very riveting, In Amazonia is a lovely blend of personal experience and historical commentary about the making of place both in physical and ideological terms. Very rich theoretically, its lively and witty prose is mercifully leached of post-modern, post-colonial jargon, making it both accessible and clear. Not only will this book leap to the forefront of Amazonian analyses but it will certainly take its pride of place in studies of tropical development, ideologies of nature, and the history of ideas about the environment and tropical representation."―Susanna Hecht, University of California, Los Angeles
From the Publisher
Co-winner of the 2003 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology/American Anthropological Association; Honorable Mention, 2004 Sharon Stephens Book Prize, sponsored by the American Ethnological Society; and one of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003
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The author, Hugh Raffles, apparently has three main goals in this book. The first is to discuss the significance of man-made canals in the Brazilian Amazon. Many of these canals were cut and dug by hand, and they opened up areas for settlement and trade that otherwise wouldn't have been so open. What appeared to 19th century explorers and naturalists to be "nature" was actually nature modified by man well before the era of steam powered ships and digging machines. A second goal, related to the first, is to give a fairly detailed example of the history of a particular man-made canal area, Igarape Guariba, that illustrates the idea of "natural history" in the sense of the history of a local natural area that has been changed over time through complex interactions between humans and nature and between humans and other humans. Such details provide an intimacy of acquaintance with Amazonia that is missed in larger-scale histories. A third goal is to discuss historical changes in European views of the relationship between man and nature, and the issue of environmental determinism of culture.
The book was of interest to me since I have visited the upper Amazon in Peru, and paddled through man-made canals similar to those that Raffles describes. And I am generally interested in Amazonian nature and native cultures. As it turned out, I was not as enthusiastic about this book as I had hoped to be. On the plus side, Raffles' narrative description-based on interviews of natives-of the history of a particular Amazonian tributary and its canals, and the families that made them, was written clearly enough, and was interesting. His discussion of trading patterns and land use in Amazonia was also interesting. On the negative side, Raffles' theoretical discussions were often tedious and hard to understand. He uses lots of rare words and complex sentences. I am not unaccustomed to reading academic writing. In fact, I have done quite a bit of it myself. But if a graduate student had turned in this manuscript to me as a doctoral dissertation, I would have required many parts of it to be re-written in plain English before I would have approved it. If you are interested in Amazonia and you have a very large vocabulary and like to use it to decipher sentences that most people would not understand at all, then you might like this book. In my view, if I have to read a sentence more than twice to understand it, then the sentence was badly written. There were many such cases in this book. This book has a number of interesting ideas. It is too bad that one has to work so hard to get them.
If you want to read a really interesting book about the Amazon as it was 150 years ago, I highly recommend A Naturalist on the River Amazons, by Henry Walter Bates. Bates was an English naturalist who spent 11 years exploring and collecting plant and insect and animal samples on the Amazon in the mid-1800s. His book is interesting for his interactions with the local people--both the natives and the Portuguese colonialists--as well as for its discussion and drawings of tropical nature. Bates' book is a major historical document of the Amazon, and it is quite interesting and well-written. After you have read Bates, you might want to read Raffles' Chapter 5 on Bates, titled "The Uses of Butterflies." Raffles discusses the historical context and significance of Bates and his work, which will add to your appreciation of Bates' book. However, be warned, to get through Raffles' chapter on Bates you will have to get through passages like this one:
"Scientific practice turns out to be a conjunctural negotiation of emergent and relational knowledges. Amazonians' understandings of the forest mediated by their assessments of the institutional resources and priorities of the visitor enter into fluid dialogue with Bates' own conflicted allegiance to natural historical systematics as mediated by all the complications stirred up in his Amazon experience" (p. 142).
I recommend this book for college professors and graduate students who specialize in the history of Amazonia.
Nature in this account is not a primeval zone either threatened or threatening, but rather a dynamic and heterogeneous web of places and relations, saturated with the affinities and intimacies, the memories and yearnings, of everyday life. Tracking back and forth between multiple sites and scales, In Amazonia takes up a series of human engagements through which the very nature of the Amazon has been elaborated-exploratory expeditions, natural history collections, ecological experimentations, and embodied practices of occupation and development.
Raffles writes both with and against the literary traditions of Western naturalism, suggestively presenting the Amazon itself as an assemblage or collection of living objects. The result is a novel and enlightening mode of "natural history," one that places at center stage both the accidents and the affects that have made modern Amazonia.
Ultimately it is the quality of Raffles' writing that makes this volume such a captivating and enlightening read. With great skill and delicacy, Raffles spins out a narrative that turns at every turn on contingency-on the myriad and unpredictable accidents of biography, politics and philosophy that lend to places their significance and texture.
It is in such workings that nature itself finds a measure of agency, ecological chains of consequence turning fields to swamps, dropping houses and fruit trees into river beds, forcing fish to move from one place to another. Raffles is candid about the contingencies that led him through the path of his own writing, from the seductions of his characters to the personal traumas that directed him to the question of Amazonian passions in the first place.
As an heir to the vexing legacies of Western environmentalism myself, I found that In Amazonia struck many an unanticipated chord. How many of us have shared Amazonian dreams unknowing?
"In Amazonia" is a book on how the Amazon, as a river, a region, and a panacea, emerges and disappears from the imagination. Raffles takes extreme care to analyze European and American interests in the region since it was colonized and its abundant plant and animal populations overwhelmed civilized sensibilities.
The Amazon is a geographical location where struggles, even over its very cartographic boundaries, take place against different backgrounds and in the imaginations of people with different goals. Globalization over the ages has gone in and out of the region just as the river tides ebb and flow.
"In Amazonia" is a worthwhile work since Raffles has taken care not to allow the Amazon to appear singular or homogenous. The lack of integration of the book is intentional and effective, and reveals conflicts that exist in representing any region of world. This book is valuable to readers interested in Amazonia particularly, and to anyone who views nature and culture as more than simple entities generally.