"The Tree Where Man was Born", "African Silences" and "Sand Rivers" make up this superlative trilogy that easily blends zoology,ecology,anthropology,travelogue and humanity into a wonderful document of Africa.
"The Tree Where Man was Born" takes you to Kenya and tells of the changing peoples who make up and live in that region; the game reserves and the steady erosion of the old Africa with a modernisation that is out of harmony with its world,and the shrinking populations of the animals-most notably the elephant and rhinocerous for the senseless-but lucrative-market for tusk and horn.
"African Silences" sees a rather hairy journey into Zaire at the height of Mobuto's corruption,as well as Gabon and the Central African Republic, and into the vast tropical forests in an attempt to census the elephant and gorilla numbers, and the outstanding bush knowledge of the Pygmy peoples-shamefully regarded as "animals" by African's wanting to lose this link to the Africa of old.
"Sand Rivers" takes us on a foot safari through the last truly untouched by man reserve-the Selous in Tanzania-with Brian Nicholson, perhaps the last of the colonial eccentrics.
The writing is so good that you gain the full experience of the old Africa (as well as the new such as Zaire's unceasing corruption )and even if you feel a bit punch drunk at times with the naming of all the fauna and wildlife, the books are so powerful and readable and populated with the conservationists (Fossey, Leakey, Douglas Hamilton etc)and histories that you never lose interest. This is a trilogy that feeds knowledge and interest.
The tragedy is that these accounts are now for an Africa of 30 to 50 years ago that has probably disappeared for ever, which gives this book historical importance as much as anything else.
This trilogy doesn't have any of the photographs that are mentioned as being in the original publications. It didn't detract from the wonder of these books, but I would (still!) love to have seen them to compare with my minds eye.
That Matthiessen never seems to be mentioned when names for the nobel prize have been bandied about over the years is a mystery. This is truly a wonderful body of work.