The best books about the Amazon rainforest

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the Amazon rainforest and why they recommend each book.

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Tree of Rivers

By John Hemming,

Book cover of Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon

I first came across this book in a communal library at a guest house I was staying at on Easter Island. The island is one of the most profoundly affecting places I have ever visited: even today the sense of remoteness is palpable: it’s four hours’ flight from the nearest airport, the island and its population are small, essential supplies such as mineral water and toilet paper come only once a month. And yet centuries ago a small group of would-be settlers from elsewhere in the Pacific landed and established a remarkable community, famous for its mo’ai (statues). They survived, and thrived, for a time, but it was always a precarious existence, and the natural environment has been altered forever as a result. The question of the extent to which the community is sustainable seems, to me, still to be there. It led me to think deeply about human beings…

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by history and the sense of place. That has led to a career in Egyptology, but I’ve come to realise that that fascination has been a part of my other interests whether it be Arsenal Football Club, rock music, or cycle touring. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot in recent years. My horizons have broadened, and I’ve come to appreciate the natural environment and man’s place in it more and more. None of the books on my list were chosen because of this – I read them because I thought I would enjoy them, but there’s a common theme linking them all – places, people, interactions.

I wrote...

Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

By Chris Naunton,

Book cover of Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

What is my book about?

This is the history of the modern science of Egyptology, of the earliest European travellers to Egypt, and the scholars who became the first in modern times to read the ancient Egyptian language. From the earliest excavators whose only interest was in digging up treasure, to the pioneering archaeologists who, later, came to realise the importance of recovering all kinds of evidence, not just the pretty things, and to preserving sites and monuments in situ.

This book is a celebration of the archives – the beautiful sketches, paintings, maps, plans, notes, and letters – of those giants on whose shoulders Egyptologists like me now stand. But it’s also a story of how Egyptologists and archaeologists have changed the landscape, destroying sites and monuments rather than simply revealing them, and restoring places to a vision of how they were, or should have been, that doesn’t necessarily reflect how things really were. And it’s a story that is largely one of European intervention in someone else’s country. Archaeology might seem like a harmless academic pursuit but in countries like Egypt it played out against a backdrop of war, military conquest, and was to some extent a part of the machinations and rivalries between European and other global powers.

Poo! Is that You?

By Clare Helen Welsh, Nicola O'Byrne (illustrator),

Book cover of Poo! Is that You?

"Poo! Is that you?" It’s a funny question, and a funny title for a book, which always has little ones holding their noses and flapping their hands in front of their faces—great for interaction. But, as well as being a fun story, this book also has an educational side, as Lenny the lemur learns everything there is to know about smells. I, for one, had never heard of the Stinkbird before I read this book. There are some Super Stinky Facts at the end and there are more books in the series to keep you entertained/educated…

Who am I?

I write books for children of all ages but I began with picture books, and they will always have a special place in my heart. I like all different types of picture books. Sometimes we read for pure entertainment, and sometimes to find out about the world, but the books on this list hit the sweet spot between the two. They are all books that will inspire further conversation and might even lead to related projects at school or home.

I wrote...

The Leaf Thief

By Alice Hemming, Nicola Slater (illustrator),

Book cover of The Leaf Thief

What is my book about?

Squirrel is so cross. Yesterday there were loads of beautiful leaves on his tree, but today? Today some are missing. Squirrel is convinced that someone has stolen them. Is there a leaf thief on the loose?

Confused Squirrel and wise Bird form the perfect partnership in this brilliantly funny story, with a fact page at the back which helps explain the changing of the seasons.

Race the Wild

By Kristin Earhart,

Book cover of Race the Wild: Rain Forest Relay

This is a great chapter book series for younger readers with competition at its heart. This first book takes place in the Amazon rainforest, and teams have to navigate survival challenges and brain puzzles to win. The main character also has to deal with changing friendships as he worries his friends (who are on a different team) may be cheating. Overall a fun, fast-paced adventure!

Who am I?

Kim Long loves to write stories with a sense of adventure, a dash of magic, and a hint of science. Her debut, Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament, was a 2021-2022 Texas Bluebonnet Master List Selection. She loves board games, scavenger hunts, and puzzles, so books with aspects of those elements have always appealed to her. Every book recommended below has at least one of those elements, and the great news is that it's also the first in its series, so if you fall in love with the first book, there’s a good chance you’ll love the others, too!

I wrote...

Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament

By Kim Long,

Book cover of Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old physics whiz Lexi Magill won't let anything stop her from winning Wisconsin's Teleportation Tournament—the annual competition where teams teleport around the world to solve STEAM-based puzzles. She needs the prize money to re-enroll in the science academy her parents can no longer afford. 

Castles, museums, and labyrinths await as Lexi and her team attempt to stay on course and outwit their competition. The perfect adventure for middle grade readers who like scavenger hunts and puzzle-solving.

With Broadax and Firebrand

By Warren Dean,

Book cover of With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

Sometimes environmental history is written with passion and outrage, and this is one such case. Brazil’s Atlantic forest is 90% gone now, and Dean explains how, why, and when that happened. He regards it as a tragedy, and his sorrow and anger enliven his writing. You probably know the ongoing story of the shrinking Amazon rainforest. Forest history is a major category within environmental history, and this is one of the best. The impact of Brazil’s leaf-cutter ants, which Dean explains, defies belief.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading and writing environmental history since I was trapped indoors on a rainy afternoon nearly 40 years ago and by chance pulled Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange off a bookshelf. I read it in one gulp (it’s a short book and the rain lingered) and I’ve never been the same since. I regard the environmental as the most fundamental sort of history, because it places humankind and our history in its full context. I love to learn about how humans and their environments affect one another and to read histories that treat both together—because in reality they have always been, and always will be, intertwined.  

I wrote...

Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

By John Robert McNeill,

Book cover of Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

What is my book about?

This is the kind of environmental history that describes changes to the world’s forests, fields, soils, lakes, rivers, water quality, air quality, wildlife, and cities—and tries to explain why those changes happened. It argues that the middle of the twentieth century marked a turning point in global environmental history because the scale, scope, and pace of environmental change accelerated markedly. The key reasons for that acceleration lay in the world’s energy system with fossil fuels at its center, in a sudden surge in population growth, in a relentlessly competitive international system, and in the resistance of economic management to ecological thinking. Even though the Times of London listed it among the best science books ever written, it’s a history book.  

Vegan Travel Handbook 1

By Lonely Planet Food,

Book cover of Vegan Travel Handbook 1

Since there are not that many vegan travel books on the market (yet), this title sneaks onto this list, but with a caveat. This book is a collaboration by multiple authors, and some parts are definitely better than others.

The general travel information was clearly written by a vegan and is right on point. However, some of the destination-specific sections seem to be lifted from Lonely Planet’s other titles and weren’t written from a vegan perspective.

While the information about vegan food options in various countries is accurate, a vegan lifestyle is not just about food. Rather, it’s about avoiding causing harm to animals as far as possible through the choices we make in all aspects of our daily life.

Some of the activities mentioned in the Vegan Travel Handbook do not fit within this worldview, which may be off-putting for vegan readers. Nevertheless, for new vegans or vegan-curious travelers…

Who am I?

I’ve been living a semi-nomadic lifestyle and traveling the globe for all my adult life, and travel has truly shaped who I am. In 2014, when I learned about the many advantages of a vegan lifestyle for my health, the planet, and the animals, I felt compelled to make the change. There was one thing holding me back, though, which was the fear that being vegan would ruin travel. Fortunately, I gave it a trial run anyway during a three-week trip to Greece and discovered that being vegan actually made traveling even more fun! Ever since, I’ve been sharing my global vegan discoveries on my website, the Nomadic Vegan.

I wrote...

Veggie Planet: Uncover the Vegan Treasures Hiding in Your Favorite World Cuisines

By Wendy Werneth,

Book cover of Veggie Planet: Uncover the Vegan Treasures Hiding in Your Favorite World Cuisines

What is my book about?

Discover the many plant-based dishes that are hiding in plain sight in the world’s best-loved cuisines. Intrepid globetrotter and vegan travel expert Wendy Werneth has explored 117 countries on 7 continents, sampling countless local specialties along the way. In Veggie Planet, she highlights the many naturally vegan dishes in 11 of the world's most famous cuisines and shows you just how vegan-friendly they really are. 

But Veggie Planet is more than just an international travel guide for people interested in the vegan lifestyle. Since the cuisines it describes are widely available (think Chinese, Italian, Indian, etc.), Veggie Planet is a godsend not only for when you’re traveling but also for when you want to enjoy a delicious vegan meal while eating out, even in your own hometown.

The End of Ice

By Dahr Jamail,

Book cover of The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

Dahr Jamail’s End of Ice threads his life experiences as a prized reporter, mountaineer, and climate activist, sharing personal human stories and experiences that reveal the difficult, cold, and hard evidence showing us that our cryosphere is irreversibly changing before our eyes. His easy-to-read prose, supported by well-researched and irrefutable science, gives us a unique introspection into the Anthropocene, chronicling the profound changes we are witnessing to Mother Nature and the demise of our frozen resources. I was enthralled by Jamail’s reflections on the end of ice.

Who am I?

Jorge Daniel Taillant is a cryoactivist, a term he coined to describe someone that works to protect the cryosphere, ie. the Earth’s frozen environment. Founder of a globally prized non-profit protecting human rights and promoting environmental justice he helped get the world’s first glacier law passed in South America. He now devotes 100% of his time to tackling climate change in an emergency effort to slow global warming … and to protect glaciers.

I wrote...

Meltdown: The Earth Without Glaciers

By Jorge Daniel Taillant,

Book cover of Meltdown: The Earth Without Glaciers

What is my book about?

Meltdown: The Earth Without Glaciers is about our changing climate and about glacier vulnerability. It’s a dive into the cryosphere and how melting glaciers in remote areas of the planet will drastically change our lives. I connect the dots between climate change and the drastic impacts of glacier melt on our global ecosystems, including sea-level rise, intense heat from decreased reflectivity, glacier tsunamis from crumbling ice, ocean and atmospheric disruptions due to massive glacier freshwater infusions into our oceans, melting permafrost that can unleash an unlivable Hot House Earth environment, and invisible glaciers residing deep under the Earth that you have probably never heard of, but that will survive our visible surface glaciers once they’ve melted away.

My purpose of writing Meltdown was to draw attention to the predicament of glacier vulnerability and to awaken society to glacier demise if we do not stop climate change soon. 

Mad White Giant

By Benedict Allen,

Book cover of Mad White Giant

This journey is simultaneously a descent into fear and chaos and an ascent into manhood. An excitable young man on his first solo journey deliberately throwing himself way out of his depth in the Orinoco basin. Allen’s aim to learn how to survive in the jungle from the indigenous peoples who’ve thrived there for centuries is a pattern he came to repeat throughout his career and one that many explorers should learn from. Things take a turn when he overhears a plot on his life and he makes a solo one-month escape from the jungle with only the clothes on his back.

Who am I?

I started solo travelling as soon as I left school, and since then I’ve spent many years doing so. I came of age while cycling, kayaking, hiking and skiing across distant lands. The bittersweetness of being alone on the road has become a source of constant fascination for me. The on-again-off-again loneliness creates a state of mind where you’re that much more willing to throw yourself in at the deep end, to meet strangers, and to look, listen and learn. At its very best, solo travel writing seamlessly encompasses two journeys: the physical journey in a foreign land, and the psychological journey within the author.

I wrote...

Through Sand & Snow: a man, a bicycle, and a 43,000-mile journey to adulthood via the ends of the Earth

By Charlie Walker,

Book cover of Through Sand & Snow: a man, a bicycle, and a 43,000-mile journey to adulthood via the ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

This was an intensely personal book for me. A coming-of-age tale played out against an ever-shifting backdrop of wild landscapes and intriguing cultures. Aged twenty-two, I left home in search of adventure. Fleeing the boredom that comes with comfort, I set off on a secondhand bicycle with the aim of pedalling to the furthest point in each of Europe, Asia, and Africa. I didn’t train or plan. I just started. 

The 43,000-mile solo journey was an escape from an unremarkable existence, a pursuit of hardship, and a chance to shed the complacency of Middle England. From the brutality of winter on the Tibetan plateau to the claustrophobia of the Southeast Asian jungle, the quest provided me with ample opportunity to test my mettle. Ultimately, though, the toughest challenge was entirely unforeseen.

Mother of God

By Paul Rosolie,

Book cover of Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey Into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

No one should make a trip to Peru--whether physically or via literature--without visiting the Amazon Jungle, which makes up 60% of Peru’s territory and is a whole world unto itself. The Upper Amazon is the Earth’s final frontier, where uncontacted Amerindians still roam, and that contains some of the richest biodiversity on Earth. This book will take you right into the thick of it.

Who am I?

I lived in Peru for five years, working as a writer, filmmaker, and anthropologist. For part of that time, I lived with a recently-contacted tribe in the Upper Amazon, visited Maoist Shining Path “liberated zones” and later made a number of documentaries on the Amazon as well as have written a number of books, most of which are on some aspect of Peru. Peru remains one of the most fascinating countries on Earth--a kind of dense amalgamation of ancient civilizations, archaeology, immense biodiversity, incredible beauty, and lots and lots of adventure. Although there’s no substitute for visiting Peru yourself--reading about it is a great way to begin your adventure!

I wrote...

The Last Days of the Incas

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Book cover of The Last Days of the Incas

What is my book about?

The Last Days of the Incas tells the epic story of the fall of the Inca Empire to the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the aftermath of the Incas’ bloody civil war. It also tells the story of the Incas’ 36-year-long rebellion after the conquest, during which they relocated their capital from the Andes to a hidden place in the Amazon jungle, learning to fight the Spaniards on horseback and nearly succeeding in pushing them back into the sea from whence they came.

The book also relates the more recent discovery by the American explorer Hiram Bingham of Machu Picchu, which he stumbled upon while searching for The Incas’ lost guerrilla capital, hidden in the upper reaches of the Amazon.

The Falling Sky

By Davi Kopenawa, Bruce Albert, Nicholas Elliott (illustrator), Alison Dundy (illustrator)

Book cover of The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman

Imagine a Martian landing on planet Earth, meeting with people in Europe and the USA, and writing about it. Part of this book is filled with such freshness of vision and its cuts through the problems and vices of our civilization; the other part is no less of an extraordinary tale of a religious leader brought up in the Amazon who seems to move effortlessly between the natural and supernatural realms.

Who am I?

From about the age of 14, I have been exploring how unusual ideas and experiences might change a person’s life. This led me to become an author and experimental psychologist studying the effects of religious beliefs, rituals, and meditation exercises on our minds and bodies. I have spent a good part of the last 4 years putting together a book which tries to answer many of my questions on the varieties of meditation practices around the world.   

I wrote...

The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

By Miguel Farias, David Brazier, Mansur Lalljee

Book cover of The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

What is my book about?

This is the most comprehensive volume published on meditation, written in accessible language by world-leading experts on the science and history of these techniques. It covers the development of meditation across the world and the varieties of its practices and experiences. These are some of the questions it addresses: what were meditation practices developed for and by whom? How similar or different are they, how effective can they be in changing our minds and biology, and what are their social and ethical implications?

The Great Kapok Tree

By Lynne Cherry,

Book cover of The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest

My kids and I always enjoy reading this book together. We get to meet a variety of rainforest animals, and along the way, we also learn a lot about the rainforest and the important role they play in the environment. I also love reading books like this where I get make up voices for different characters. 

Who am I?

I’m the kind of person who can stare at a leaf and be mesmerized by its colours and textures. As an author, illustrator, and photographer I am constantly inspired by nature, and through my work I hope that I can inspire others to find beauty in the outdoors. As a father, my favourite moments with my kids are when we are outside looking under rocks, following a ladybug, climbing trees, or trying to find the best stick. I love seeing how other authors share their passion, and this list shows some of the many ways that we can appreciate nature and all that’s in it.

I wrote...

My Forest Is Green

By Darren Lebeuf, Ashley Barron (illustrator),

Book cover of My Forest Is Green

What is my book about?

With art supplies in tow, a young boy explores the urban forest near his home, then interprets what he sees with his art. The boy is a keen observer who uses poetic, rhythmic language to describe the diversity he finds through all four seasons. His forest is both “fluffy” and “prickly,” “dense” and “sparse,” “crispy” and “soft.” It's also “scattered and soggy, and spotted and foggy.” His forest is made up of many colors — but he decides that “mostly it's green.” Each aspect of the forest inspires the boy to create a different kind of art: charcoal rubbing, rock art, photography, sponge painting, snow sculpture, cut-paper collage. To this artist, there's always something new to discover, and to capture!

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