James Owen

Amazon, and on

Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon


Thames & Hudson 368pp £20 order from our bookshop

The story of the Amazon, as John Hemming’s admirable book makes clear, is a largely dismal tale of ravage and exploitation. Ever since it was discovered in 1500 by the former captain of Columbus’s ship, Niña, Europeans have projected their fantasies onto the region. Seen successively as utopia, El Dorado, Lost World and new frontier, its present incarnation as a natural resource to be plundered at least puts greed nakedly to the fore.

Its sheer size is hard to grasp. Rising in Peru, not very far from the Pacific, it debouches into the Brazilian Atlantic across a basin that would cover three-quarters of the United States. The longest road through its territory, the Trans-Amazonia Highway, would stretch from Lisbon to Moscow. A fifth of all the fresh water in the world flows along its length, which is bordered by rainforests larger in area than the Indian subcontinent and richer than any other ecosystem on the planet.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,