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One River Paperback – August 5, 1997
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Best known for The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis is an ethnobotanist interested in the native uses of plants, especially psychotropics. He finds many such plants in the travels he recounts in One River, especially coca and curare. (The first, famously, is a curse in the First World but is a necessity in the Andes, where it promotes the digestion of many kinds of food plants.) Framing Davis's narrative is an account of the dangerous World War II-era Amazonian expeditions undertaken by his mentor, Harvard biologist Richard Evans Schultes. Davis describes a few hair-raising encounters of his own, making this a fine book of scientific adventure.
From Publishers Weekly
The prodigious biological and cultural riches of the vast Amazon rain forest are being lost at a horrendous rate, according to the author, often without yielding their secrets to the Western world. During his years in the South American jungle, ethnobotanist Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow) has done much to preserve some of these treasures. He tells two entwined tales here?his own explorations in the '70s and those of his mentor, the great Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, beginning in the '30s. Both men have been particularly interested in the psychoactive and medicinal properties of the plants of the Amazon basin and approach their subject with a reverence for the cultural context in which the plants are used. The contrasting experiences of two explorers, a mere generation apart, starkly demonstrates how much has already been destroyed in the rain forest. Although Schultes probably knew more about Amazonian plants than any Western scientist, he was constantly learning of new ones and new uses for them from native experts. Davis graphically describes the brutal clash of cultures from Columbian times to the present, often so devastating for indigenous peoples, that has defined this region. At times humorous, at times depressing, this is a consistently enlightening and thought-provoking study. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In addition to introducing us to the Americas (not just South America), the author manages to tell us the what and the why. For me, this book, more than any other historical work, provided me with many "ah ha" moments.
I'm grateful to the author for writing this tome, and to the men and women who experienced the triumphs and tragedies throughout.
This is a long book, nearly 500 pages and is a serious commitment but well worth it as you will not experience anything quite like it unless Davis's other book is better (I have not read it yet). I only have a few complaints about the book and those are regarding omissions in some available photographs that Davis mentions in the end and a lack of maps for much of the area covered in the book. There is one small map on page 125 that shows the route of travels but it is too small and difficult to use. I resorted to a copy of International Travel Maps - South America North West to see the detail that I needed as I followed the travels of Schutes, Davis and Plowman.
Davis is an excellent writer and he has a way of conveying a sensitivity to the lives of all that he encounters. That along with his insight into the cultures that he experiences and the knowledge and history that he brings into this makes it a unique, rich read.