Books by Nigel J.H. Smith

Released: Feb. 8, 1996

A comprehensive overview of the Amazon Basin's riparian ecology and of the economic development that threatens to destroy it. ``As the new century approaches,'' the authors write, ``the Amazon is being transformed by deforestation, urban growth, mining, dams, and widespread exploitation of its natural resources.'' Yet in world coverage of these events, they maintain, the Amazon serves as a backdrop; they offer the astonishing fact that more is known about the Amazon as a whole than about a handful of its tributaries, thanks to a lack of thoroughgoing ecological investigations of the entire region. This book, by three leading authorities on the Amazon, provides a summary of what is, in fact, known. Among the sobering matters that the authors cover is the destruction of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest over the centuries, ``a poignant lesson in the dangers of ignoring the need for conservation and rational management of natural resources.'' They examine the history of jute and rubber production, which brought the first wave of European and mestizo colonists into the Amazonian interior a century ago, and describe current economic trends, especially the clearance of rainforest for livestock grazing. Along the way, they offer a guided tour of the Amazon's rich and varied ecological zones, noting that ``most of the Amazon's legendary biodiversity is not . . . expressed in the vertebrates,'' but in insects, in the preservation of whose floodplain habitat lies the key to determining how to save the larger rainforest. That determination is pressing, because the destruction of that region ``could happen in just decades. . . . Unless action is taken within the next few years, it may be too late. The task would then be restoration, not preservation.'' A fine contribution to Amazonian studies and to the literature of environmental advocacy. (90 color photos, 3 b&w photos, 2 maps) Read full book review >