John Terborgh, who has worked in the Peruvian Amazon since 1973, is Research Professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke and Director of its Center for Tropical Conservation. His latest book, co-edited with James A. Estes, is Trophic Cascades: Predators, Prey, and the Changing Dynamics of Nature.
 (April 2012)

Out of Contact

Sydney Possuelo (right), founder and director of Brazil’s Department of Isolated Indians, with members of the Korubo tribe in the Amazon River basin, 2002
Incredible as it may seem, and there may be no greater anachronism on earth, there are still “wild” human beings living in some of the remotest corners of the tropics. Most are around the fringes of the Amazon in the border regions of Brazil, especially in neighboring Perú where there are suspected of being at least fifteen uncontacted groups.

Can Our Species Escape Destruction?

Drax Power Station, a coal-fired power plant in Yorkshire, England, 2008
Here is the anguished cry of another distinguished scientist distressed by our collective incapacity to grasp the enormity of the earth’s looming environmental crisis. It has been obvious for a long time—many decades—to legions of individual scientists, and to prestigious scientific organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the …

Why We Must Bring Back the Wolf

A red wolf pup (Canis rufus) netted for handling at a captive-breeding facility in Washington State
Caroline Fraser’s book Rewilding the World is a call to retrofit more than a century of nature conservation in the United States and around the world. Why, at this late date, is it so important that we redesign the global conservation system? Conservationists are rightly proud of their collective accomplishment …

The World Is in Overshoot

Albert Bierstadt: Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1868
Steve Nicholls is a wildlife film producer and through practicing his art has seen a lot more of nature than most of us ever will. Alarmed by the declines he had perceived in twenty-five years of looking at the natural world through a lens, he turned to writing to lay …

The Green vs. the Brown Amazon

One of the first things any Brazilian tells a foreigner is that Brazil is really two countries: the south and the north. With a highly educated population of predominantly European origin, the south, with its two great cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, is becoming an agricultural and …

Hero of Birdland

According to the US Forest Service, 70 million Americans call themselves bird-watchers, making bird-watching one of the most popular leisure activities of our time. It hasn’t always been so. A century ago, bird-watching as it is practiced today didn’t exist. There were no field guides to help identify birds and …

Vanishing Points

Should we be concerned at the prospect that half of the world’s 6,500 or so languages will be lost within the current century? Is it a tragedy that the ancient world’s greatest library at Alexandria, Egypt, disappeared without a trace? What should be done about the Great Sphinx of Giza, …

The Age of Giants

Tim Flannery’s book will forever change your perspective on the North American continent. The Eternal Frontier is history, but on a scale unimagined by most historians, for it begins with the scorching of our continent 65 million years ago and ends in the future. Flannery guides us on a sweeping …

A Dying World

Both these books are about the use of native plants by people living in the Amazon basin, but beyond that they could hardly be more different. One River is an adventure story, a biographical account of two plant explorers, Richard Evans Schultes, Oakes Ames Professor of Economic Botany at Harvard, …

Trouble in Paradise

“It is dark. I am sitting on the veranda on a cold morning, listening to the night sounds die down. A hyena whoops out across the plains as it heads for a communal cubbing den beyond the airstrip. Somewhere by the swamp, a jackal yips sharply. Slowly the sky lightens …

Cracking the Bird Code

Have you ever lain awake at night wondering how, when, and why birds sing? If so, Bird Song may be the book for you. But no one should imagine that it is about the charming and euphonious (or sometimes cacophonous) things birds say to one another. Catchpole and Slater present …

Solitary Enigma

The furry round-faced panda, so beloved in the West and the icon of the World Wildlife Fund, is, in its vanishing native habitat, an animal with a price on its head. What is treasured by one culture is dispassionately viewed as a source of quick revenue by another. The stark …

A Matter of Life and Death

Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard scientist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the lives of ants and on the problems of ecology, begins his book on a dark night in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest: The forest at night is an experience in sensory deprivation …