- Paperback: 544 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684834960
- ISBN-13: 978-0684834962
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Stylistically, the narrative doesn't always flow well. Wade presents the life of the books central character, Richard Schultes, in some sort of chronological order, but interjects anecdotal stories out of order requiring the reader to have a good memory to keep everything straight. This is a long detail-rich book with 1000s of people and place names covering about a 150 year timespan from the Amazon Jungle, to the Andes to Central America and the American West.
The amount of detail is at times excessive, in particular with place names and locations, Wade sometimes spends as much time describing where a place is (a 50 person village in the jungle) as he does about the place itself before moving on to the next place - it feels like a rote travel log at times, probably because he used Schultes private botany journals as one source. There is so much detail it sometimes crowds out the big picture, lost in the trees. I think the book could have been edited back 100 pages or so, there is just a lot of material that is pure anecdote or trivia.
Finally and probably most importantly, as a life of Richard Schultes, this is pure hagiography. He is the hero of the story in all respects. Perhaps hagiography is helpful in motivating students to become scientists, but it is not a balanced objective biography, it is a tribute by one of his admiring students, Wade plays up Schultes accomplishments but does not question or examine his failures. For example, Schultes spent the majority of his career in the Amazon studying the rubber tree and became the world expert, yet he never did complete a book about it, what a tragic loss. I don't mean to disparage Schultes, but given his stature and reputation, the lack of any criticism naturally draws the question Wade never asks. The book was written in 1996 and Shultes died in 2001 so with time we may see a more balanced perspective.
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.