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River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 22, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
In this fluid account, Levy narrates the story of the conquistadors who become the first Europeans to navigate the length of the Amazon River. After plundering the Inca empire, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco Orellana set out from Quito with an expedition of soldiers and Indian slaves in search of El Dorado. The two explorers became separated and the expedition quickly became lost in the jungle, then decimated by disease, starvation, and native attacks. Desperate, Orellana and the remaining conquistadors built a large boat and sailed downriver. Realizing that he would be unable to wait for Pizarro, Orellana set his sights on the Atlantic Ocean thousands of miles away. Levy does a fine job of organizing an enormous amount of historical material and balancing the accounts of Orellana and Pizarro after they separated. As one conflict follows another in rapid succession, they tend to blur into each other, though Levy provides enough descriptive detail and pacing to differentiate between the various native groups and aspects of the river. He also addresses the new archeological research that is changing our understanding of the cultures of the pre-Columbian Amazon Basin. (Mar.)
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Praise for River of Darkness:
"River of Darkness immediately takes its place as the definitive book on one of the great voyages into the unknown of all time, Orellana's accidental first descent of the Amazon. Not only is it a solid contribution to the scholarly literature on Amazonia, but it is a riveting and irresistible read, narrative history of a literary quality rarely encountered that compares with Alan Moorehead's great books on the Nile. Bravissimo !" -- Alex Shoumatoff, contributing editor, Vanity Fair; publisher DispatchesFromTheVanishingworld.com,
and author of In Southern Light, The Rivers Amazon, and The World is Burning
“In River of Darkness, Buddy Levy proves that the scariest stories are the true ones. Filled with fascinating details and the terror that comes with exploring something for the very first time, this is history coming back to life.”
- Brad Meltzer, Bestselling author of The Book of Fate and The Inner Circle
“Buddy Levy is one of those rare and gifted authors whose books are virtual time machines that effortlessly transport us back through centuries. In River of Darkness, we participate in one of history’s signal explorations, Francisco Orellana’s descent of the Amazon River. We see blood, smell smoke, hear screams of joy and agony. Levy’s impeccably researched book is at once harrowing adventure and revealing history. Better than any in recent memory, River of Darkness sheds new light—and reveals the darkest aspects—of the Conquistadors’ brave and bloody New World forays.”
-James M. Tabor, Author of Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth.
Top customer reviews
The BBC presented a program entitled "The Secret of El Dorado." The program referred to Orellana's trip down the Amazon River 1542 which, while apparently well-documented, seemed to be mythical. Scientific investigations have discounted Orellano's account of large communities along much of the Amazon River due to an underlying assumption that the basic soils of the Amazon basin are not adequate to allow intensive agriculture which is the basis for large community development. Current scientific investigation reveals that indigenous peoples had develop a system of agriculture, termed "terra preta" which allowed adequate production of food for large populations. In addition, archeology has located and examined numerous areas which were probably abandoned because of the indigenous contact with Europeans as happened in North America.
The second aspect of Levy's book is the historical material about Conquistadors, Spanish power, and the colonization of the Inca Empire from Francisco Pizarro to Orellano's trip down the Amazon and the fate of the Pizarro family in Peru. The workings of the Spanish government and the politics of the time are interesting historically and in comparison with current world governments and situations.
I recommend this book for the above reasons.
While the story of Orellana's inadvertant voyage down the Amazon is a story of survival, it is certaainly one of adventure. Did Orellana have a choice or was he really an adventurer and explorer? Was his life and death after the voyage proof of the addiction of adventure?
The book also gives a picture of the thriving nations of the Amazon in the 16th century. Now and forever lost to history by disease, greed, religion, conquest and ignorance.