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Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon [Paperback]

John Hemming
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Nov 2009
This enthralling book brilliantly describes the passionate struggles that have taken place in order to utilize, protect and understand the wonder that is the Amazon. Hemmings riveting account recalls the adventures and misadventures down the centuries of the explorers, missionaries, indigenous Indians, naturalists, rubber barons, scientists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political extremists, prospectors and many more, who have been in thrall to the Amazon, the largest river in the world, with the greatest expanse of tropical rain forest and most luxuriant biological diversity on earth.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson (9 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500288208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500288207
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 17.5 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 386,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After Oxford (History at Magdalen College) and learning magazine publishing in Toronto, I spent a year travelling all over Peru. Then my Oxford friend Richard Mason had the idea of being the first to descend and survey the Iriri river in central Brazil, which we thought was the longest unexplored river in the world. The Braziian government liked this, sent three surveyors, and gave us permission to name small things like waterfalls or streams. (We blew this by naming places after our then Brazilian girlfriends.) After four months of cutting and carrying into completely unexplored forests, our Brazilian woodsmen had built two dugout canoes and we were ready to descend the Iriri. But an unknown tribe found our trail, laid an ambush, and killed the first of our 11 men to walk into it - the leader, Richard Mason. The tribe was contacted 12 years later and proved to be one of the most warlike indigenous peoples in Amazonia - for whom 'stranger' and 'enemy' were the same word.

These experiences led to a love of South America and various books.
These included, about Peru 'The Conquest of the Incas' and later 'Monuments of the Incas', 'The Search for El Dorado' about the conquest of northern South America, and what became a trilogy about the exploration of Brazil and its indigenous peoples: 'Red Gold' (covering 1500-1760); 'Amazon Frontier' (1760-1910); and 'Die If You Must' (1910 to present). During the 1960s and early '70s I built up an exhibition-organising company, Brintex, while researching and writing books in spare time.

During two years I visited some 45 Indian tribes all over Brazil, four of them at the time of their first contact. These are wonderful and fascinating people, and some of the Brazilian Indian-service experts who contacted them were outstanding. I became a friend of the great humanitarians, Orlando and Claudio Villas Boas - and was the only non-Brazilian to be invited to the kuarup funerary ceremonies that the Indians held for both of them (in 1998 and 2003)- and also of the last great sertanista, Sydney Possuelo.

All this led to my getting the job of Director of the Royal Geographical Society. This was hard work but great fun. During 21 years as Director (1975-96), I revived that venerable place, turning round its dire finances, doubling the membership, making it more friendly for thousands of users, boosting its academic side, and personally running a lively lecture programme (from which I got to know all the great explorers). These were decades when the world was interested in environment and adventurous research, so we supported hundreds of researchers and organised eleven large projects all over the world for the RGS.

I myself led one of these projects, the Maraca Rainforest Project in northern Brazil (1987-88), which eventually had 150 scientists and 50 scientific technicians, mostly Brazilians, and yielded much knowledge about how forests function, over a hundred books (including three by me) and papers, and some 200 species new to science. It was the largest project ever organised in Amazonia by any European country, and a magical experience for all us participants.

Now I still manage to visit Peru and Brazil almost every year, am active in several charities, and chairman of Hemming Group Ltd. which publishes trade magazines and organises trade exhibitions and conferences. I am pleased that 'The Conquest of the Incas' is still in print for 42 years and I have just given it a second revision. A shorter history, 'Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon' (2009), and two of the Brazilian Indian histories have just been translated in that country. I am also proud that the Peruvians awarded me their two highest civilian orders: 'El Sol del Peru' and the grand cross of the Order of Merit; Brazil gave me the Cruzeiro do Sul (Order of the Southern Cross); and the UK the CMG (St Michael and St George).

Product Description


'Hemming shows a profound curiosity, knowledge of and passion for his subject ... persuasive and eloquent'
--The Times

'Hugely ambitious ... an outstanding piece of scholarship by an extraordinarily knowledgeable and passionately committed author - as well as a fascinating read'
--The Geographical Journal

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best reads on the Amazon, ever! 24 Feb 2010
This books is simply a MUST for anyone interested in the Amazon and the unspeakable destruction of the same perpetrated by so called civilized people!

Beyond the immense interest of ths book, the way it is written very aptly, and lively, conveys the history of that most amazing place.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book about an incredible place 9 Jan 2011
I bought this book on impulse as every page just drew me in. It is absolutely fascinating. The author mixes historical fact and research with his own experiences from the field and the result becomes a full, beautiful story of this misunderstood but incredibly threatened environment. The way he describes the Spaniards explorations in the Amazon and describes from his own knowledge what they would have felt and the sights they would have seen is amazing. He really does reinforce to even the casual reader that we are by no means superior to this tree of rivers and all its incredible diversity, but that we are part of it and that we should respect it!
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
chapters well planned. A lot of information on the whole range of historical, human, physical, economic background. Written very clearly in an extremely readable style... I read the sections i had previously had no interest in and learnt a lot painlessly! excellent book for a complete and rounded view of the region.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Product placement 3 Mar 2009
By Jay C. Smith - Published on
Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon
This is a beautifully produced book, well worth its discount price at Amazon (the bookseller, not the South American basin). I was led to it by Candace Millard's favorable review in The New York Times Book Review. Hemming, a former Director and Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society in London, is a noted authority on the Amazon (the basin, not the bookseller). This volume mixes history, geography, anthropology, botany, zoology, and other disciplines into a detailed and compelling narrative covering several hundred years. You will meet many heroic, obsessed, curious, and villainous characters along the way. Much of the book describes how badly the indigenous people and the land itself have been treated. Throughout, however, the core of the story is the place itself - the rivers, the landscape, the flora, and the fauna. Once you read it you may want to make a visit.
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sincerely disappointed 27 Sep 2008
By J. Texley - Published on
This is an area of intense interest for me, but I was disappointed with the book. The author takes the role of Nineteenth Century explorer, not modern scientist. His biology is truly weird--calling animals "stupid" or "cute" in an anthropomorphic way. He interweaves none of the new biology or genetic anthropology that has made the study of Latin America so fascinating in the past few years.

And while he includes photos, the predominant theme is the abuse and slavery of the indigenous people. That's a fact, of course, but there is also their genius in genetic engineering, terraforming, and social systems.

The author seems to be looking at the Amazon through the eyes of some scientific colonialist.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, a must read 1 July 2010
By Robert Doty - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most history books are quite dull and even boring. This book is not that. It reads so well that it's difficult to put down. Frankly I was looking for a more contemporary description of life in the Amazon when I bought this but from the beginning I was hooked. It is very well researched and skillfully written. It begins with the first explorers in the 1400's through present day, describing all the major players, both the good (scientists, anthropologists and true explorers) and the bad (rubber barons, slave masters, mass murderers and modern day habitat destroyers).
Anybody who is interested in the Amazon will find this extremely interesting. It gives you a real but sometimes shocking background for better understanding of the current dilemma, not only for the rainforest but also for the indigenous peoples who flourished within it and why the Europeans who tried to settle there failed miserably.
This is not an "armchair traveler what's-it-like-to-live-in-the-Amazon" book but, as the title says, a story beginning with the first explorers and subsequent impact of those who followed them. Buy this, you won't be disappointed. Sure wish I could give it more than five stars.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It does deserve 10 stars. 10 Aug 2008
By Al Pier - Published on
It is a very important work. Gathered real info in years and years.
Yes, it deserves not only 5 but 10 stars. Read this book, read it with digesting its' every paragraph thoroughly. Because, people of our world have to come to an understanding what takes place on the other parts of the world other than their tiny home-towns and know if they contribute to the happenings in the Amazon.
Read this book, but before doing it, know who John Hemming is. (Born 1935). ( will help). And then, you will separate this book from your others and appreciate it. This book is not read as an adventure book or love story or thriller or any other.
This book is a real subject which occurred in the past and occurring now present. His ability to reach out to your understanding is unbelievable. You will read it to the end in one opening. Unless need to use restroom.
I can only hope if it will be published in Portuguese language too so it can be read by Brazilians whom don't speak English.(I'd like to know). Because that is their land and only they can make the real difference for their own good and for the rest of the world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazin Read 2 May 2011
By zeusstl - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Amazing history of the ongoing destruction of the Native Amazonians by the imperialistic and missionary Europeans from the 1500s until the present. I am so happy that this was the first book that I read about this subject because it gave a great detailed overview and inspired me to read much more about the Amazon and its people, history, culture, ecology, flora and fauna.
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