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On the heels of several ambitious general examinations of the world's vanishing tropical rainforests (most recently Caufield, p. 1079) comes a brief, lavishly illustrated glance at one threatened area: the Amazon basin, which not so long ago was being ballyhooed as a Brazilian New Frontier. World Wildlife Fund V.P. Stone, then Time-Life bureau chief in Rio, saw much of the story at first hand during the 1960s, when Presidents Castello Branco and Costa e Silva were proceeding apace with overweening road-construction and development-incentive programs in the wake of the national government's removal to symbolically remote and futuristic Brasilia. He reconstructs the ill-starred history of earlier attempts to ""open up"" the Amazon, from the first post-Columbus explorations of the coast and the rival claims of Spain and Portugal to the collapse of both the 19th-century rubber boom and the subsequent grandiose rubber-growing schemes of Henry Ford. The last few decades have seen stunning advances in the study of tropical ecosystems by North American (and recently Brazilian) researchers, and, more belatedly, some recognition by government planners and World Bank sugar daddies that the huge investments necessary for interior-basin ranching and mining projects simply may not pay off. Today, massively subsidized rainforest boondoggles--notably the Grande Carajás project (incorporating several enormous mining, transporting, and smelting operations) and the Tucurui' dam (to supply power for Grande Carajás among other purposes) continue to stumble along despite the country's ongoing economic difficulties and a rising chorus of doubts. Stone's work, however, should be judged more as extended photoessay than substantial analysis: thumbnail sketch follows supercondensed prÉcis, and the treatment of Brazilian regimes from Kubitschek to the present is particularly full of sweeping epithets and heavy-handed rapid-fire generalizations. Nor does the text dwell in a naturalist's detail on the intricacies of forest life itself, or evince much curiosity about the many still imperfectly studied remaining Amazon Indian tribes. (For an analysis of the human issues, Jonathan Kardell's Passage Through Eldorado excels at every turn.) On the other hand, Stone clearly intends to provide an elementary survey of complex materials and troubling issues, and he accomplishes this intelligently enough.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking