One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis

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One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis

Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Rachel Holmes
Reviewed by Rachel Holmes
Summary: Part biography, part memoir, this incredibly detailed work of non-fiction documents journeys and discoveries through the Amazon of both the author himself and his late mentor, Richard Evans Schultes. With a wonderful ability to tell a story, Davis writes with passion and enthusiasm for his work as a botanist and immerses himself (and the reader) in the culture of the indigenous tribes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0-099-59296-9

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As someone who has always enjoyed learning about the Amazon, and with plans to travel to South America next year, this book practically screamed at me to be reviewed. And, although a little tough going and long-winded in parts, I'm glad I had the opportunity to get lost in Davis' incredible work of non-fiction. Difficult to describe in terms of genre, this book combines history, politics, science, botany and culture. It is delivered through a biographical account of Davis' own travels and as a memoir to Richard Evans Schultes, an ethnobotanist well known for his work and travels in the Amazon and Wade Davis' highly regarded mentor.

From the first chapter, I felt I was experiencing Davis' travels with him as he immersed himself in the lives of the Amazonian tribes in Columbia and at times I almost forgot I was reading a non-fictional account of his explorations, due to the richness and detail of his descriptions. Davis' enthusiasm in his field of work, collecting plants and researching the Amazon rainforest, was clear from his willingness to cover every detail and memory from his time there, and, as a result, whisks the reader along in the passion of the journey. At times I did think there was perhaps a little too much detail, especially for a layman such as myself who has little knowledge of botanics, however, I still found it impossible not to be captured by Davis' discoveries.

If asked to describe the book, I would say One River has two parts to it; Davis' own journey to the Amazon in the 1970's, and the memoir to Schultes, documenting his journey in the 1940's. These are intertwined throughout with chapters dedicated to one or the other. I did sometimes find this a little confusing, having to switch between the two, but Davis has written it in such a way that the accounts seem to naturally flow, even though the journeys are thirty years apart. Davis' regard for his mentor is clear, not just through his words, but by the fact that he followed in Schultes' footsteps and had such a desire to continue his teacher's research.

The historical information in this book was unexpected and I was surprised at how much I learned about the culture of the Amazonian tribes, the plant coca and it's usage in their culture, as well as the effect of rubber booms on the indigenous tribes in the late nineteenth century, and again during World War Two. It certainly made me stop and think about the products we take for granted in the Western world such as tyres, piping in homes and even wellies, and how the demand for these had such an impact on their culture.

I did like the added touch of a picture at the start of each chapter, depicting one or more tribe members, often during a daily ritual or chore. Davis has also added photographs in the middle section, mostly from Schultes' travels, which gives the book a more personal feel and documents his bond with tribe members. Davis also provides a couple of maps of Schultes' explorations as well as the indigenous tribes of the Columbian Amazon, which I found useful in knowing where places were in relation to one another.

Overall, One River is possibly the most detailed work of non-fiction I have ever read and gives a real insight into not only Schultes' and Davis' life and passion for their work, but also Davis' character and his obvious respect for his mentor and colleagues. Although quite a hefty book of over five hundred pages (don't expect this to be a quick read…far from it!), I can honestly say each page is filled with enthusiasm, ambition, courage and friendship.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

For further reading on South America and the Amazon:

Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge by John Gimlette

The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon by David Grann

Buy One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis at Amazon.com.


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