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Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon

Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon by Patrick Tierney
37 reviews (2000) (464p)
National Book Award for Nonfiction Finalist

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Book Description
The explosive and highly controversial National Book Award finalist that has forever changed the discipline of anthropology. Thought to be the last "virgin" people, the Yanomami were considered the most savage and warlike tribe on earth, as well as one of the most remote, secreted in the jungles and highlands of the Venezuelan and Brazilian rainforest. Preeminent anthropologists like Napoleon Chagnon and Jacques Lizot founded their careers in the 1960s by "discovering" the Yanomami's ferocious warfare and sexual competition. Their research is now examined in painstaking detail by Patrick Tierney, whose book has prompted the American Anthropological Association to launch a major investigation into the charges, and has ignited the academic world like no other book in recent years. The most important book on anthropology in decades, Darkness in El Dorado will be a work to be reckoned with by a new generation of students the world over. A National Book Award finalist; a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and a Boston Globe Best Book of the Year. 16 pages of b/w photographs. Review
Since Napoleon Chagnon set foot in the Amazon in 1964, the Yanomami Indians have been an emblem of savage primitive man, as well as a staple of anthropology classes. Chagnon's Yanomami: The Fierce People is the all-time bestselling anthropology book, and his award-winning documentaries brought images of brutish, wife-stealing, naked Indians into classrooms around the world. Chagnon, however, has been dogged by criticism and controversy for years, and with the publication of Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado, the debate has erupted, forcing what may be the most tragic and shameful chapter of anthropological history into public view. Tierney's allegations, if true, are devastating. While Chagnon made the Yanomami synonymous with aggression, Tierney charges that Chagnon himself fomented wars through his tactics of creating false alliances, giving away machetes, and staging scenes in order to substantiate his own belief in male aggression. Even worse, Tierney believes that Chagnon and his mentor, the famous geneticist James Neel, actually started the measles epidemic that decimated up to 20 percent of the tribe's population by administering a contraindicated "dinosaur vaccine" to a highly vulnerable population. Tierney paints a horrific picture of Neel and his team of scientists rushing to get their samples of blood, urine, and saliva out of the tropical heat--and Chagnon choreographing his documentary--while the Yanomami fall like flies around them.

Tierney's research is meticulous and exhaustive (and includes the discovery of sound recording outtakes never before heard). He has penned a riveting story backed by a flood of facts that condemn Chagnon and his cohorts, and those who continue to abuse the Yanomami:

In the economics of exoticism the more remote and more isolated a tribal group is, the greater its market value. As the last intact aboriginal group, the Yanomami were in a class by themselves, poster people whose naked, photogenic appeal was matched by their unique genetic inheritance. Their blood was as coveted by scientists as their image was by photographers.
Anthropologists have been fearful of public reaction to the Chagnon scandal, and for good reason. As Yanomami spokesman Davi Kopenawa says, "For many years now anthropologists have been saying how exotic we Yanomami are. But when we finally tell our story the world will find out who is truly exotic." --Lesley Reed

Patrick Tierney Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 1  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 1 Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon ·  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award


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