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

Patrick Tierney (Norton, 417 pp., $27.95, Cloth, 0393049221)

In a book that has already received a lot of attention and been the source of controversy, Patrick Tierney writes of how the professional and personal interests of anthropologists and scientists jeopardized the very existence of the Yanomami Indians. Located in the far regions of the Amazon, the Yanomami were considered to be an “untouched” people and drew intense interest from anthropologists who wanted to study "primitive" societies. Tierney focuses much of his attention on Napoleon Chagnon, whose study of the Indians, The Fierce People, became a classic in anthropology. As his title suggests, Chagnon described the Yanomami as a violent people, but as Tierney reveals, much of tribal warfare was either caused by Chagnon’s favortism for certain groups or directly encouraged by him for the benefit of the camera. Other players include the Atomic Energy Commission and the geneticist James Neel, a fervent supporter of eugenics, whose blood work contributed to a massive measles epidemic in the region. This is a sobering and, at times, shocking book, replete with sexual opportunism, political corruption, and over-inflated egos, that richly documents the excesses of western academics and their effect on the Yanomami.