The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes


160 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55365-078-6
DDC 986.1'6'00222






Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a professor of geography at the University of Toronto
and the author of The Sugar Cane Industry.


This is an extraordinary book. On picking it up, one is struck by the
beauty of its design and production. The generous page size, the
exceptional quality of the paper, the choice of typefaces, the careful
integration of text and illustrations, the delicate ivory patterning of
botanical designs on the wide margins, and the superb photographs all
draw you into the book and make you want to know about its subject,
Richard Evans Schultes, even if you have never heard of him before or
had no prior interest in Amazonia.

Schultes was a Bostonian, educated at Harvard, and for many years a
professor of botany at Harvard. He died in 2001. His area of field
research was northwest Amazonia, largely in Colombia, where he spent the
years 1941–53 travelling by canoe, with only one or two companions,
living with and learning from the Indians in regions that had seldom if
ever before been visited by outsiders. During his time in the Amazon, he
collected “some thirty thousand botanical specimens, including two
thousand novel medicinal plants and three hundred species new to
science,” became “the world authority on toxic, medicinal, and
hallucinogenic plants,” and is now widely recognized as “the
greatest botanical explorer of the twentieth century.”

He was also a very fine photographer. The Lost Amazon begins with a
brief, previously published account of his explorations, which provides
the context for the pages of black-and-white photographs that follow.
There are landscapes, river scenes, and photos of Indians.
Shamans—from whom he learned a great deal about the psychoactive
properties of plants—are frequent subjects, some in elaborate dress.
Idyllic scenes of young boys fishing contrast with a double portrait in
which one boy is asleep, the other uneasily awake, the concern on his
face perhaps a premonition of the world he is about to lose.

The Lost Amazon is an elegant homage paid by a student to his teacher.
For those who appreciate fine bookmaking, it is a volume to treasure.


Davis, Wade., “The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,