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Eugene Linden
The Ragged Edge of the World: Encounters at the Frontier Where Modernity, Wildlands, and Indigenous Peoples Meet
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Viking / Penguin Putnam
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-400-06963-7
Publication Date: 03-17-2011
260 pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 05-27-2011

Index:  Non-Fiction

We like to think we know — but we don't. By now, the world should be mapped to the nearest inch. But it isn't, and it cannot ever be simply by virtue of the fact that it is changing, and we are the ones responsible. Eugene Linden has been on the track of this change for his whole career. Fresh out of college, he went to Vietnam to see first-hand a war that he had signed up to fight.

But it was another war that would draw his attention, another war that has not ended and shows no sign of ending; the war that consumer culture wages upon the very earth itself. Then and now, Linden has put himself on the front lines. And he's been doing so for long enough to see change over the long run. Eugene Linden has indeed been to 'The Ragged Edge of the World,' and in the years he has been there, he's seen what happens when busy, industrial man meets raw nature.

'The Ragged Edge of the World: Encounters at the Frontier Where Modernity, Wildlands, and Indigenous Peoples Meet' is first and foremost a rip-roaring, exciting reading experience. Be prepared for the kind of compulsive reading that will eat up your weekend. Linden's world is so strange, you simply do not want to put the book down until you have completed his tour, even if the places he goes seem utterly inhospitable. His prose is lively, and he takes us there one-on-one. Of course, that's the draw.

The plan is pretty simple; Linden has been to a lot of edgy places in his years as a writer and journalist. In this book, he talks both about his first visits to those places, and more recent return visits, to see what has changed in the course of some thirty-odd years. Since Linden's travel agenda takes him to the places where most of us can't go, 'The Ragged Edge of the World' is a fascinating examination of an essentially alien world on earth. But it's not just a look at the alien worlds on Earth, it's a look at what happens when an alien world is invaded by modern humans.

Linden is expansive in his explorations and economical in his storytelling. He knows how to edit his adventures into what amounts to a series of "just the good parts" scenes, whether he's seeing the counter-intuitive effects of the Vietnam war on ancient forests, examining the Cargo Cults as a consumer society, listening to pygmies, exploring the arctic or chronicling the battle for the planet of the apes; in this case, the real battles between chimpanzees and gorillas.

Linden seems drawn to the most inhospitable and unpleasant places on the globe, where he not surprisingly finds life rich, abundant and threatened by just about every aspect of Western society. But what could be a very bleak and depressing book is livened by fine writing and an eye that not only appreciates the virtues of the places he visits but is able to convey a true sense of wonder.

Linden is also practical and smart, with an eye to what can be done to preserve parts of this world that may disappear forever in our lifetimes. He even presents a workable plan to make this happen. It's a very nice way to finish a book that explores the world, to preserve for readers the visions that the author has brought back from places that may no longer exist. We are the aliens; we are the invaders. This is a war of the worlds, and we can only hope that as invading aliens we do not find ourselves take down by an unfamiliar microbe.

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