Book Review: A Land Of Ghosts

A Land Of Ghosts:  The Braided Livees Of People And The Forest In War Western Amazonia, by David G. Campbell

As is often the case, this book would have been way better with a different author.  There are certainly some compelling stories on offer in this book, but the intrusive nature of the author’s unwelcome perspective makes this book less enjoyable to read than it otherwise would have been.  There are truly a great many interesting stories in a small city, and in the wisdom of allowing survival skills to show the way that cities and towns can endure in harsh and unforgiving territories, but the author does not do a good job at making this story appealing, especially when he begins with a rather laughable discussion of evolution.  Still, as most of this book talks about some people in the Amazon region and their struggle for survival in a harsh climate where logistics and transportation are immensely challenging, all for the sake of the counting of trees and the search for the number of trees that the area has for a biological census, this book is at least generally enjoyable even if the author is the weakest link in the entire exercise.

This book is about 200 pages and it is divided into eleven chapters.  There are several threads that are woven through the book and some of them are worthwhile and enjoyable and some of them are not.  The author himself is a scientist who is seeking to understand the plants (especially the trees) in a remote part of Brazil that once belonged to Bolivia before Brazilian aggression stole it.  There are also a great many interactions that the scientist has with locals, some of whom have good forest sense and survive, and some who die because of their lack of such savvy.   There is a discussion of Amazonia’s fragile transportation network and the failure of roads to provide an alternative to rare and dangerous flights and lengthy boat trips.  There is a discussion of the ecology of the region, which is less interesting than it could have been because of the author’s bloviating about various matters.  At its best, though, this book discusses the struggle of people in an unforgiving and remote wilderness, and that thread takes up a good portion of the book, thankfully.

If you check out this book, you will enjoy it a lot more if you care about trees, have an interest in the Amazon (and other rain forests) and/or have an interest in Brazilian culture and history.  The author has a lot to say about these subjects and by far the most compelling and interesting aspects of the book are in the stories.  In some ways that storytelling comes from the author’s need to pad out the book a little, since the account of his own efforts at conducting a tree census in a remote region is only three weeks long and admittedly not that interesting of material.  But a tree census that leads to flashbacks of the author’s previous time spent in Brazil, as well as some of the people he knows there and their lives and pasts, that is something that is worth reading for at least some people.  Admittedly, I happen to be one of those people, but I wonder if the author realizes that this book would have been more interesting with even less of him than the book provides.  Sometimes a writer of a book, and that is the case here, is of the mistaken impression that they are interesting enough to carry the book rather than simply to convey what others truly want to see.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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