by Wade Davis ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
A fascinating narrative of the exploits of Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, interwoven with the much more benign adventure of his student, author and ethnobotanist Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1986). Beginning in the middle 1930s and for the greater part of the next two decades, Schultes journeyed throughout the remote Amazonian jungle to study the psychoactive and medicinal plants used by its indigenous peoples. His discoveries--including the natural plant source for LSD--have filled the annals of ethnobotany and helped kick off the hallucinogenic era of the 1960s. Schultes survived beriberi, malaria, frequent capsizings, and airplane accidents. But perhaps his most adventurous and sometimes dangerous forays were into the psychoactive drug rituals of tribes located deep within the Colombian and Brazilian rainforests. Schultes was recruited by the US government in the late '30s to find and develop new, blight-resistant sources of rubber, a project that was foolishly abandoned, according to Davis, because of bureaucratic infighting and ineptitude. Faintly echoing Schultes's saga is Davis's account of his own 1970s expedition, when he accompanied the ethnobotanist Tim Plowman to the Andean regions of Peru and Colombia to collect specimans of coca and study its cultivation patterns; in the footsteps of their mentor, Schultes, both men sample the hallucinogenic effects of various potions, chew coca leaves, and find themselves in some dicey situations on mountain roads. These episodes are flavored with revealing histories of the brutal Spanish conquest and the more recent but equally gruesome enslavement of Indians to the rubber trade, and contain some sprightly written, at times dryly ironic travel prose. But Davis's own experiences pale by comparison with the main narrative and are interjected at seemingly random intervals. Although Davis might have been better advised to scale down, this is an exceptional tale of 20th-century scientific exploration and a rousing travelogue to places both real and illusory.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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