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Scott Wallace
The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Crown / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-307-46296-1
Publication Date: 10-18-2011
512 Pages; $26
Date Reviewed: 11-26-2011

Index:  Non-Fiction

We will never know our world. For every path cleared, every exploration, every satellite photo of every square inch of land and sea and even what lies beneath both, there will always be some place that we cannot see, some one we cannot know. And those places, those people, we will fill with stories, and one story in particular: Here be monsters.

Every age believes that it has witnessed the final conquest of all that there is to be known, only to be held ignorant by the age that follows. The stories each age tells of its conquests of the unknown, of victory over monsters, of expeditions into the last frontier prove to be much more informative about the explorers than the explored. In this age, of technological triumph, Scott Wallace's 'The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes' is not just a thrilling example of storytelling. It's a look into our own unconquered hearts of darkness.

Wallace's book certainly comes with lots of thrills. He's selected at the last minute to join an expedition led by Sydney Posuelo, head of Brazil's Department of Isolated Indians to gather information on an uncontacted tribe known only as the "Arrow People," without actually contacting them. Between the contradiction built into the mission, the significant hazards of the Amazonian jungle and the Posuelo's obsessive, eccentric mood swings, just getting from the beginning to the end of the trail is fraught with danger. But with great skill, Wallace tells this story as he weaves in the historical back story that informs the men and their mission. It's not a happy history, but it makes for great reading.

'The Unconquered' reads very much like a novel, and in this regard, Wallace does a great job with a wild and diverse cast of characters, himself included. As our storyteller, Wallace is as steady as he can be, but he does not spare himself when he's in the thick of bullet ants on a monkey meat diet. Posuelo is the main character, a larger-than-life explorer out of Joseph Conrad, frightening, changeable, but also, effective. Wallace realizes that he needs Posuelo, as well as the combustible crew of mixed-breeds and Indians in order to get him out of the jungle. Their web of interactions, grumbles, quarrels, threats and promises is a fascinating, real-life portrait of men in peril on the latest frontier.

Carrying all this is Wallace's effective prose, propulsive when it needs to be, descriptive when it needs to be and never in the way. 'The Unconquered' is a gripping, fast-paced story of exploration, obsession and the conflict not just with other civilizations, but within our own. We are very busy creatures, always trying to understand the other. 'The Unconquered' suggests that our explorations into the unknown reveal how little we know about ourselves. You might read this book, then look in the mirror and realize: Here be monsters.

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