Book Review: Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon
By John Hemming (Thames & Hudson, 2008)
John Hemming, the historian who penned Conquest of the Incas, one of the definitive texts on the arrival of the Spanish in Peru and South America and the battles that followed, has released this gem of a book that covers the breadth of Amazon history. While the Incas, Moche, Chimu, and other civilizations that inhabited the South American continent prior to the Spanish invasion, the loose knit tribes and cultures of the Amazon have rarely been mentioned in historical texts. When they have it has been brief.
Dr. Hemming was the Director and Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society in London from 1975 to 1996. He has lead numerous research projects in the region and has explored previously unvisited territory that have lead to contact with four previously uncontacted tribes. Few, if anyone, have the experience in the Amazon that he does. Like Conquest of the Incas, Hemming relies on the journals of conquistadors, scientists, and explorers as they first entered the region in the 1500’s, revealing a much stronger society and higher population than there is today. He shows the vast destruction of the people through disease and slavery by the people of nearly every Western civilization. The level of detail here is unparalleled.
The stories of Fitzcarraldo, as portrayed by Werner Herzog, and other rubber barons and legendary adventurers are here. The first descent on the river by Francisco de Orellana in 1542 is chronicled too. Many voices contribute to this almost encyclopedia of Amazon history and the result is masterful.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.