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“The Last Rainforests” by Mitchell Beazley, (World Conservation Union) is a beautifully illustrated book which looks at rainforests worldwide – conservation status, plants, insects, birds, animals and people. It was the first book to publish maps of the forests with their past and present extent, clearly demonstrating their destruction.
Another book with a global worldview is “People of the Tropical Rain Forest” by Denslow & Padoch. It examines forest dwellers from prehistory to the present day, and discusses all the related topics from deforestation to the impact of big business and sustainable uses of the forests.
It’s not just the forests that are disappearing, it’s also their inhabitants. John Hemming’s “Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians” will tell you all you need to know about the conquest and colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese, and the consequent decimation of the indigenous population.
Sadly, violence and death in the rainforest is not a thing of the past. Forest land continues to be cleared by migrant farmers looking to establish title over the land. Unfortunately for them, the forest holds valuable timbers and minerals coveted by land grabbers, resulting in ugly land little wars and often murder. Check out Binka Le Breton’s “The Greatest Gift”: the story of Sister Dorothy Stang, murdered in 2005 in the course of the land wars.
Binka Le Breton has also written about future of the forest that lies with the people who inhabit it: Indians, loggers, ranchers, river people, rubber tappers and miners. Her book “Voices from the Amazon” gives the forest dwellers a chance to express their own views on the development of the forest. Strangely enough, not many people thought to ask them before…
If you know nothing about Brazil, for the most comprehensive book with perceptive insights explaining the historical and cultural factors that make Brazil today the way it is, we recommend “Brazil, a Biography”, by two university professors, Lilia Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling. It’s a chunky book to carry around with you, but do try and read it before you come: it’s well worth it. The superb English translation was published by Allen Lane in 2018.
For less history and more culture, try the fascinating collection of essays by Brazilianists of different nationalities, collected by leading Brazilian sociologist, Roberto da Matta, and David Hess. It’s called “The Brazilian Puzzle”.
Former New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter’s book, “Brazil on the Rise”, looks at Brazil as one of the up and coming BRIC countries before things went wrong. If you’re one of those for whom Brazil is synonymous with football, then you’ll like David Goldblatt’s “Futebol Nation” – a nice account of modern Brazil through a soccer fan’s eyes.
And finally, if you want a feel for Brazil in general, you can’t do better than read some of the magnificent fiction written by Brazilian authors. You might start with Márcio Souza, whose “The Emperor of the Amazon” is a great, comic tale of a true scoundrel and his adventures in the Amazon.