In Search of the Amazon

Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region

In Search of the Amazon

American Encounters/Global Interactions

More about this series

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 29 photographs, 7 tables, 4 maps Published: December 2013

Author: Seth Garfield

Environmental Studies, Geography, Latin American Studies > Brazil

Chronicling the dramatic history of the Brazilian Amazon during the Second World War, Seth Garfield provides fresh perspectives on contemporary environmental debates. His multifaceted analysis explains how the Amazon became the object of geopolitical rivalries, state planning, media coverage, popular fascination, and social conflict. In need of rubber, a vital war material, the United States spent millions of dollars to revive the Amazon's rubber trade. In the name of development and national security, Brazilian officials implemented public programs to engineer the hinterland's transformation. Migrants from Brazil's drought-stricken Northeast flocked to the Amazon in search of work. In defense of traditional ways of life, longtime Amazon residents sought to temper outside intervention. Garfield's environmental history offers an integrated analysis of the struggles among distinct social groups over resources and power in the Amazon, as well as the repercussions of those wartime conflicts in the decades to come.


"The book is engagingly written and packed full of information and excellent illustrations. . . . It will appeal especially strongly to those interested in U.S. involvement in Latin America before the Cold War. By placing U.S. intervention in Amazonian and Brazilian histories, Garfield recounts another chapter in the making of this enigmatic region that is the wartime roots of the ideological and administrative structures that have shaped the place today." — Mark Harris, American Historical Review

"[Garfield] succeeds best as a straightforward storyteller in the best tradition of talented historians." — Angus Wright, Environmental History

"Garfield is to be commended for shedding so much light on the cultural and eonomic history of the Amazon in the twentieth century. This book is a must have for all those interested in development policy in the Amazon." — Nigel Smith, Journal of Historical Geography

“I highly recommend this book for its systematic and nuanced treatment of a region in flux. Garfield traces important precursors of contemporary inter-regional migration, land conflict, environmental change, and regional development policies. Amazon specialists will enjoy the meticulous archival work, and geographers will appreciate the focus on environmental history and political ecology. Those with general Latin American interests will learn about an important but often overlooked chapter in regional change.” — Brian J. Godfrey, Journal of Latin American Geography

“This thoughtful, well-rounded book is, then, an invaluable addition to the English language historiography of the Amazon that remedies a gap in the extant literature. It also foregrounds an aspect of the war effort far from the battlefields that made an important, if largely unacknowledged, contribution to Allied victory for which participating Brazilian rubbers tappers could retrospectively be proud.” — Philip Chrimes, International Affairs

“Garfield makes an important contribution to Brazilian historiography…. [He] combines thorough research in US and Brazilian government documents and contemporary publications with discerning use of labor and criminal court cases and oral histories with rubber migrants.” — Thomas D. Rogers, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Although this may seem like well-traveled historiographical territory, Garfield finds new information to tap and synthesize. Whereas most books on the Amazon focus on a single topic …  the strength and novelty of Garfield’s work is his focus on the convergence of all of these elements and more. Garfield’s social and environmental approach means that he does not focus solely on the thoughts and actions of policy makers. Instead, he puts labor and nature at the center of the narrative to show how the Amazon was built from below. Garfield’s book successfully merges global, national, and local history.” — Myrna Santiago, Labor

"In Search of the Amazon is an important addition to the Amazonia bookshelf.... [R]eaders will enjoy the exotic settings, dramatic story, and larger historical interpretations." — Michael L. Conniff, Journal of American History

"In Search of the Amazon offers a sophisticated analysis of the process of labor mobilization and resource extraction that is carefully balanced with a thorough study of the uncertainties and promises of Brazil’s attempts at establishing a partnership with the United States." — James N. Green, EIAL

"This is a fascinating, cutting-edge telling of an oft-ignored chapter of World War II and of US-Latin American relations that should be of interest to all those interested in US, Latin American, or environmental history." — Alan McPherson, Canadian Journal of History

"For Brazilianists, this book is essential reading, but it is of interest more widely as a fascinating account of a watershed moment in the construction of an increasingly high-profile region." — Suzanne Oakdale, Journal of Anthropological Research

". . . Garfield successfully brings to light the complicated and rich history that too often is flattened in contemporary national and international imaginings of the Amazon. In this he provides a model of how to write the history of the environment from a multifaceted, complex, and nuanced perspective." — Teresa Cribelli, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"In equal measure environmental, economic, and diplomatic history, Seth Garfield’s In Search of the Amazon is much more than the sum of its parts. With clear prose and sharp analysis, Garfield's wonderful new book is a model for how to write the social history of nature, placing the great, wondrous Amazon at the heart of America's transnational twentieth century." — Greg Grandin, author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

"In this path breaking study, Seth Garfield explores one of the most significant U.S. interventions in Amazonia. During World War II, the United States was desperate for rubber after losing access to Asian markets. In alliance with Brazil, the U.S. government embarked on an aggressive initiative to jump-start the Amazon rubber trade. Garfield masterfully recasts U.S.-Amazonian relations, revealing the wartime roots of the ideological and bureaucratic structures that have shaped modern Amazonia." — Susanna B. Hecht, author of The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha

"Seth Garfield's extraordinary book reflects an enormous amount of research, knowledge, and thought about the Amazon. Besides recounting a fascinating chapter of World War II, Garfield places the history of the Amazon within a grid of political, social, and economic concerns that transcend the region's borders but are ultimately modulated by its particular circumstances of settlement and exploitation. He demonstrates the importance of wartime events in shaping subsequent disputes over the fate of the rain forest." — Barbara Weinstein, author of The Amazon Rubber Boom, 1850–1920


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Seth Garfield is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil: State Policy, Frontier Expansion, and the Xavante Indians, 1937–1988, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acronyms ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. The Reappearing Amazon 1

1. Border and Progress: The Amazon and the Estado Novo 9

2. "The Quicksands of Untrustworthy Supply": U.S. Rubber Dependency and the Lure of the Amazon 49

3. Rubber's "Soldiers": Reinventing the Amazonian Worker 86

4. The Environment of Northeastern Migration to the Amazon: Landscapes, Labor, and Love 127

5. War in the Amazon: Struggles over Resources and Images 170

Epilogue. From Wartime Soldiers to Green Guerrillas 213

Notes 229

Bibliography 303

Index 333
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2014 Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Council on Latin American History, American Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5585-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5571-7
Publicity material