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Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest Paperback – August 1, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
I ahve two basic criticisms of this book: (1) The title is misleading. There was no apprenticeship involved - Plotkin learnt no ceremonies and no cures. He is not a shaman by any stretch of imagination.
(2) He is one of the hundreds of ethnobotanists who case the Amazon in search of clinically active plants; these people are no bleeding hearts - they do it for pharmaceutical industry, which generally pays a pittance to the indigenous people from whom the knowledge was taken. Plotkin himself was engaged with a such a company, called aptly enough, Shaman Pharmaceuticals.
Now I think this is fair to lay out in a review, don't you? In my mind, Plotkin exemplifies a self-righteous attitude with which Westerners venture into contact with indigenous peoples, all too often under the guise of conservancy and environmental activism.... and then write books about it. I frankly cannot see what Plotkin had to do with apprenticeship to Amazonian shamans and if this is enough to censor my review - well so be it.
Remember those naming games you played on summer nights? "If you were on a desert island, but could have one book with you, what would it be?" When I go up the Amazon, I'll be carrying this little tome under my arm.
Before then, I will enjoy the adventure story and recommend it to others; use the bibliography for further research on the history of the rainforest; make lists of the flora, especially medicinal remedies, mentioned; trace along a map the various routes Plotkin took on his travels through Brazil, Surinam, and along the borders of Colombia and Venezuela. I could teach a year-long course based on the information in this book. What an English course that would be with all the links to ecology, botany, language studies, sociology, anthropology, survival training, medicine--the list goes on.
Am I enthusiastic about Plotkin's work? It is the best book I have read in years even though, teaching literature, I read many fine books. It has affected me the way some people are converted by religion. If you have ever held a thoughtful concern for the rainforest or indigenous peoples or our earth or oxygen, it will affect you, too.
Using a scholarly approach to his highly readable story makes this accessible to professional botanists or historians as well as to us lay people. The photographs each speak their thousand words and are worth the price of the book in themselves. What Rachel Carson did for the dangers of environmental pollution, Mark Plotkin does for the destruction of the fragile rainforest.
Another game you played on summer nights--asking impossible questions like "If a tree fell in a forest, but no one were there to hear it, would it create a sound?" Plotkins makes indelibly clear the effect the fallen trees of the rainfore! sts have on us all.