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History Expeditions & Discoveries

Magdalena

River of Dreams

by (author) Wade Davis

Publisher
Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2020
Category
Expeditions & Discoveries, Caribbean & Latin American, Rivers
  • Hardback

    ISBN
    9780735278929
    Publish Date
    Sep 2020
    List Price
    $39.95
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780735278943
    Publish Date
    Jun 2021
    List Price
    $24.95

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Description

A captivating new book from Wade Davis--award-winning, bestselling author and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence for more than a decade-- that brings vividly to life the story of the great Río Magdalena, illuminating Colombia's complex past, present, and future

Travelers often become enchanted with the first country that captures their hearts and gives them license to be free. For Wade Davis, it was Colombia. Now in a masterful new book, the bestselling author tells of his travels on the mighty Magdalena, the river that made possible the nation. Along the way, he finds a people who have overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, informed by an enduring spirit of place, and a deep love of a land that is home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach verdant Andean valleys rising to soaring ice-clad summits. This rugged and impossible geography finds its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments explosive and wild.

Both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry and prayer, the Magdalena has served in dark times as the graveyard of the nation. And yet, always, it returns as a river of life. At once an absorbing adventure and an inspiring tale of hope and redemption, Magdalena gives us a rare, kaleidoscopic picture of a nation on the verge of a new period of peace. Braiding together memoir, history, and journalism, Wade Davis tells the story of the country's most magnificent river, and in doing so, tells the epic story of Colombia.

About the author

Wade Davis is professor of anthropology and the B.C. Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Between 1999 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and is currently a member of the NGS Explorers Council and Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In 2014, Switzerland’s leading think tank, the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute of Zurich, ranked him 16th in their annual survey of the top 100 most influential global Thought Leaders.
An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his PhD in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunavut and Greenland.
Davis is the author of 275 scientific and popular articles and 20 books including One River (1996), The Wayfinders (2009), The Sacred Headwaters (2011), Into the Silence (2011) and River Notes (2012). His photographs have been widely exhibited and have appeared in 30 books and 100 magazines, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men’s Journal, and Outside. He was the co-curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In 2012 he served as guest curator of No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World, an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.
His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the National Geographic. A professional speaker for 30 years, Davis has lectured at over 200 universities and 250 corporations and professional associations. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures. He has spoken from the main stage at TED five times, and his three posted talks have been viewed by 3 million. His books have appeared in 20 languages and sold approximately one million copies.
Davis is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for his contributions to anthropology and conservation, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the highest award of the Explorers Club, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2013 Ness Medal for geography education from the Royal Geographical Society, and the 2015 Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. His recent book, Into the Silence, received the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top award for literary nonfiction in the English language. In 2016 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Wade Davis' profile page

Excerpt: Magdalena: River of Dreams (by (author) Wade Davis)

In a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, a European woman asks a pro­fessor from Bogotá what it means to be Colombian. The man hesi­tates before replying, “I don’t know. It is an act of faith.” Colombia is like that. Nothing is as expected. Magical realism, celebrated as Colombia’s gift to Latin American literature, is within the country simply journalism. Gabriel García Márquez wrote of what he saw. He was an observer, a practicing journalist for most of his life, who just happened to live in a land where heaven and earth converge on a regular basis to reveal glimpses of the divine.
 
Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach in a week Andean valleys as gently verdant as the softest temperate landscapes of the Old World. No place in Colombia is more than a day removed from every natural habitat to be found on earth. Cities as cultured as any in the Americas were for most of their history linked one to another by trails traveled only by mules. Over time, the wild and impos­sible geography found its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments tortured and twisted, like a mountain that shakes, crum­bles, and slips to the sea. Magic becomes the antidote to fear and uncertainty. Reality comes into focus through the reassuring lens of the phantasmagoric. A god that has given so much to a nation, as Colombians never fail to acknowledge, always gets his piece on the back end.
 
Certainly there was some kind of magic at work in the genesis of this new book, which celebrates the Río Magdalena, Colombia’s river of life. In 2014, I was invited to Bogotá by Héctor Rincón and Ana Cano, both acclaimed journalists from Medellín, to help pro-mote the Amazon volume of their series Savia Botánica. With the backing of Grupo Argos, one of Colombia’s most prominent corporate citizens, they had assembled teams of botanists, photographers, and journalists to survey the five major regions of Colombia with the goal of producing an elegant illustrated book on each—the Llanos, Amazonas, Chocó, the Caribbean coast, and the Andean Cordilleras. These Savia Botánica volumes were not to be sold, but gifted as complete sets to every library in the country, all with the goal of sending a message to a new generation of young Colombians that theirs was not a land of violence and drugs, but rather a place of unparalleled natural wealth and beauty, home to, among many wonders, more species of birds than any other country in the world.
 
One day, as we wrapped up a discussion of the latest Savia Botánica volume, I casually mentioned that, having focused on the Colombian landscape, perhaps it was time to pay attention to the rivers. I proposed, half in jest, that we do a book on the Río Magdalena, the Mississippi of Colombia, the vital artery of commerce and culture that runs a thousand miles south to north, traversing the entire length of the nation. To my surprise and delight, my new friends embraced the idea without hesitation, as indeed did Grupo Argos, which immediately offered its unconditional support for the project. That whimsical remark turned out to be a defining moment, for the research and writing of this book would in the end consume nearly five years.
 
Colombians think of the Magdalena as having three sections—Alto, Medio, and Bajo—divisions with overlapping and even shifting boundaries that nevertheless reflect geographical, historical, and cultural distinctions far more profound than the simple terms high, middle, and low would imply. Thanks to the generosity of Grupo Argos, I was able to explore the Magdalena in all its dimensions, from source to mouth, in all months of the year, with every shift of the seasons, from the uplands of the Macizo Colombiano to the sand and stones of the Caribbean shore. Altogether, I made five extended forays to the river: two with the Savia team, led by Héctor Rincón and Ana Cano, surveys that covered the entire drainage, and two subsequent explorations that concentrated on the Medio Magda­lena and the musical traditions of the lower river and the Caribbean coastal plain. The fifth brought me back to the Arhuaco mamos, old friends from my time in the Sierra Nevada, as we returned to Bocas de Ceniza to make ritual payments at the mouth of the river, even as the streets of Barranquilla erupted all around us with the magic and joy of Carnaval.
 
The Río Magdalena is not just the country’s main artery; it’s the reason Colombia exists as a nation. It is the lifeline that allowed Colombians to settle a mountainous land that geographically may well be the most challenging place on the planet. Within the Mag­dalena drainage live four of every five Colombians. It is the source of 80 percent of the nation’s economic wealth, the engine that drives the economy, the river that powers the lights of the great cities. Like the Mississippi, its shadow to the north, the Magdalena is both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer. In dark times, it has served as the graveyard of the nation, a slurry of the shapeless dead. And yet always, it returns as a river of life. Through all the years of the worst of the violence, the Magdalena never abandoned the people. It always flowed. Perhaps, as this book suggests, it may finally be time to give back to the river, allowing the Magdalena to be cleansed of all that has soiled its waters. Colombia as a nation is the gift of the river. The Magdalena is the story of Colombia.

Editorial Reviews

A Globe and Mail "Best Book" of 2020
An Economist Best Book of the Year, Culture and Ideas

“In this outstanding travelogue Wade Davis traces Colombia’s mighty Magdalena River from source to mouth, encountering stunning vistas and a host of extraordinary people. . . . [Davis] tells epic tales of passion, violence and ambition with tremendous narrative verve." —Sunday Times

"Few people can interpret Colombia, this most complicated of countries, as Wade Davis does; fewer people still can write about it with such empathy, knowledge and grace. Magdalena is the ultimate proof that Colombia’s present and past are inextricably linked to the larger fate of the American continent. To say that the book deserves to be read is perhaps inaccurate; I’d rather say that anyone who wishes to understand this mysterious corner of the world deserves Magdalena. It is a capacious, generous and illuminating book." —Juan Gabriel Vásquez, bestselling author of The Sound of Things Falling

“After all our agonies, Wade Davis, through the evocative power of his writing and the clarity of his understanding, gives us all reason to once again love Colombia. That is the wonder of this book, which in many ways reads as a love letter to a nation.” —Héctor Abad, author of Oblivion
 
“The author and his subject make an ideal match. . . . Magdalena is a revelatory and often enchanting book, enhanced by fine photographs and good maps.” —The Economist

“His passion for Colombia is . . . expressed in the depth of information he delivers—and the poetic way in which he captures its extraordinary landscape. Those pondering a trip will be inspired to veer off the tourist path.” —The Times

“[Magdalena] is the culmination of a lifetime’s work in the country and is suffused with a love and knowledge that only such long acquaintance can bring.” —The Spectator
“Davis suffuses his reportage with a visionary tinge. But his subject more than warrants it. He tells of an indigenous savant who advises lovers of the Magdalena to “know its moods . . . recognise its power, yield to its strength, and be thankful for its bounty.” His torrential book achieves all that.” —Financial Times 
“[An] ardent travelogue. . . . Davis stocks his lively narrative with piquant characters, dramatic historical set pieces, and lyrical nature writing. . . . The result is a rich, fascinating study of how nature and a people shape each other." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Davis is a powerful, penetrating and immensely knowledgeable writer.” —The Guardian
“[A] delightful journey. . . . Davis is a natural, engaging storyteller, and while he makes his way through Colombia's history . . . the book is also an affecting account of on-the-ground exploration. . . . An elegant narrative masterfully combining fine reporting and a moving personal journey.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] deeply inquisitive, dazzlingly fluent scientific, cultural, and spiritual investigation . . . Always with a discerning eye to the symbolic and metaphorical, Davis tells the river’s saga of fecundity and horror through the lives of remarkable individuals past and present. . . . The story of Magdalena, as for every river, is that of an epic struggle between the sacred and the profane, between worship and preservation and reckless exploitation and wanton abuse.” —Booklist (starred review)
 

Other titles by Wade Davis