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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was the book that turned me on to Ethnobotany.
Reading this changed my perspective on Western civilization forever. One example is the author's revelation that the indiginous peoples weren't hunter-"gatherers" at all, but rather gardeners of the world's remaining Eden, inheritors of an agricultural tradition far more ancient and advanced than ours. I was stunned by the realization that Western...
Published on 9 Jun. 1999

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling if you like slow-moving uneventful books
Why Read this? Poorly developed story line and not very interesting at all
Published on 31 Dec. 1998


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was the book that turned me on to Ethnobotany., 9 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
Reading this changed my perspective on Western civilization forever. One example is the author's revelation that the indiginous peoples weren't hunter-"gatherers" at all, but rather gardeners of the world's remaining Eden, inheritors of an agricultural tradition far more ancient and advanced than ours. I was stunned by the realization that Western agriculture's monocultures of neat little rows laid out in a landscape of squares is the simplistic imposition of a human order on a far more complex natural order- an order that the Amazonian tribes incorporate in the design of their jungle-garden. A mindblowing paradigm shift awaits you, especially if you bring some knowledge of complex adaptive systems and/or Periodic Equilibrium evolution to this lucid journal. And this amazing personal account is a ripping good yarn. The only thing this book needs is a follow-up epilog, a "where are they now" of the pharmaceuticals, the shamans, the tribes, and the author's efforts to save them from extinction. A warning: Rereading this book in the summer of '98 while watching the rainforests of Indonesia and Mexico burn deeply depressed me. It was like a thousand libraries of Alexandria going up in smoke. Future generations will never forgive us.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden secrets of the rain forest, 5 Nov. 2005
By 
Amanda Richards "Hotpurplekoolaid" (ECD, Guyana) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
What secrets lay hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest? The Shamans of the indigenous tribes know quite a bit, and most of them aren't telling. This book serves as a play by play guide to one scientist's journeys into the tropical rain forest, the Indians he encounters, and the lessons he learns (some the hard way) about the healing and sometimes deadly powers of trees, flowers and shrubs.
Filled with interesting geographical, historical and scientific facts and colorful descriptions, you'll never look at medicine, stimulants and supplements again without imagining their humble origins in plants you might just as easily dismiss as weeds.
The author bemoans the loss of the rainforests and the Westernization of the indigenous peoples of the Guianas, yet his mission is to promote further research and increased use of native plants by the huge pharmaceutical industry, a goal that if achieved will lead to large scale harvesting of the botanical and human resources in this dwindling and fragile eco-system.
On the bright side, his studies and published research serve as an irreplaceable guide to the flora of the region - knowledge that is now being lost as the elders pass to the other world, and the young Indians play Nintendo and listen to Britney Spears, thanks to the influences of "civilization".
What I found disappointing (and I may be slightly biased here) was that he mentions just a few of the many tribes of Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil and Venezuela, largely leaving out Guyana, except for extensively quoting from renowned explorers like Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk and Barrington Brown, both of whom contributed significantly to his research through their published work on British Guiana. Indian groups in Guyana include the Makusí (Macussí or Macushí), Warao (Warrau), Arawak, Carib, Wapisiana (Wapishana), Arecuna, the mixed "Spanish Arawak" of the Moruka River, and many more in the forest areas, and should have been worth a mention or two.
Other than that, the narrative gets a bit bogged down in places, there is quite a bit of repetition, and after a while you can't tell your "ah-kah-de-mah" from your "ah-tuh-ri-mah". There's also the little detail that the author cannot honestly claim to be a Shaman's Apprentice, as there was no such thing while he was doing his research.
Having said that, his descriptions of the flora and fauna seem fairly accurate, as are his accounts of the hunting and fishing activities of the tribes, and he should consider himself a lucky man to have been afforded the opportunity to experience the way of life of our indigenous peoples that most people will never be able to see.
Amanda Richards
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethnobotany for the people, 5 Nov. 2005
When I first picked up this book, I had just come back from living in the South-East Asian jungle, where I had met people similar to those mentioned in this book- and witnessed similar scenes of heartbreaking cultural destruction. I never knew ethnobotany existed- that it was even a job- and found myself strangely immersed in this new world.
Anyone who picks up this book looking for intimate details of the technical side of Plotkin's craft is going to be disappointed. However, it should be immediately clear that this book is not aimed at a small scientific clique but at the general public, and that it is designed to be read by the comparatively uneducated beginner. Everything is carefully explained, and the background to actions and choices is given. There are also cultural anecdotes which offer a sense of shared confidences, without digressing from the bulk of the message.
This is an adventure book, and to some extent an anthropology book, first and foremost, and a scientific work second. For anyone who wants something more technical, Plotkin's scientific studies and their results are actually online (yes, they can be found through Google!) along with many of his interviews. Clearly, this guy gets around! So if you're unsure what this book is about or whether you should buy it, try checking some of them out to see if they're your sort of thing.
Basically, this is a great introduction to the (very) basics of ethnobotany and its guiding principles. Even those who aren't normally into this sort of thing will be taken in by the persuasive message: save the rainforest, guys!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely captivating book, impossible to put down, 15 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
This book gives you a need to go down to South America and experience the things that the author has written so well about, he gives someone such an urge and strong emotions when writing of the tribes danger of extinction
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT READ - NOT JUST FOR THE ACADEMIC!, 13 May 2006
By 
S. DIXON (Middlesbrough, CLEVELAND United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I really enjoyed this book, it was very easy to read and informative. Plotkin details his journey through the Amazon, and on his way describes all manner of plants which could be used for medical purposes, but also considers the intervention of the medical companies as a bad thing...as they will eventually lead to the destruction of the environment in which these grow.

Well recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! Read this NOW!, 12 Mar. 1998
By A Customer
Mark J. Plotkin's great work has really opened my horizons up to realize the plight facing world society. Through demonstrating the vast economic importance of ethnobotanical knowledge to the rest of the world, the reader feels the tragedy of the rain forest being depleted. The world's rain forests are the most complex biomasses on earth, and there are myriads of species of plants that have never before been seen, that could yield potentially useful medicines. The recording and finding of these medicines is found through conversational exchange with tribal peoples, who have evolved their botanical knowledge through thousands of years of trial-and-error. Finding these new medicines is important not only to the current medical sphinxes plaguing society (AIDS, cancer, etc.), but also for the inevitable medical problems we will face in the future. An all-around excellent book! It reads like an adventure novel, and the style of prose is transfixing, and enormously captivating.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Why this is an excellent book, 1 Sept. 1997
By A Customer
Why is this book great? Two words: reads well. Many people, like myself, see scientific books as dull and hard to follow because of a general lack of knowledge regarding the subject of the book. Plotkin, however, does a great job of making this book fun to read, for the people who know nothing about how plants work in producing their healing chemicals, to knowledgeable botanists who could have contributed to this book as well. This book reads like a story, and Plotkin does a great job of weaving tidbits of humor into this journal of everyday life among the Indians of Amazonia. His humorous stories in this book are refreshing interjections to the detailed descriptions of plant life, as well. All in all, I greatly recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered how indigenous people in the rainforest are able to survive in today's world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Phenomenal Book, 25 April 1998
By A Customer
I agree wholeheartedly with the rave reviews for this book and it has become one of my favorites (I even sent it to an ethnobotanist in Yap as a must read). Not only is it wonderfully well-written, and not only does it address crucial ecological concerns, but it is an exciting account of Plotkin's effort to identify and explore the medical possibilities of Amazonian plants, while preserving the indigineous lore about their uses, both medicinal and spiritual; the discovery and adoption of plants by Europeans and North Americans, and Plotkin's own adventures. I found some it so fascinating on so many levels I'd read it to my family (okay, I know that may be obnoxious, but I couldn't restrain myself). It's thought-provoking, important and absolutely fascinating. Can't recommend it highly enough!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, informative and holds the reader's interest, 19 Aug. 1999
By A Customer
Very thorough but interesting and understandable to the layman, Plotkin's record of his studies increases our appreciation for the disappearing rain forest, its peoples and the potential cures we may find, if we don't destroy them first.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Eye Opener!, 6 Feb. 1999
By A Customer
This book opened my eyes to issues to which I had never given much thought. In planning for a trip to the rain forest of Belize, a friend gave me Tales of An Apprentice Shaman. As it wasn't a book I selected I was a bit tenative about starting it. Having now read it cover to cover, I can honestly say it is a book that has changed my perspective of the world and given me insight to people from non-Western/Indian cultures, the fragility of the ecosystem, and secrets of the jungle. For me, this book was definitely worth my time and effort.
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