Cover image for Darkness in El Dorado : how scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon
Darkness in El Dorado : how scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon
Tierney, Patrick.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxvii, 417 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, 1 map ; 25 cm
Format :


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F2520.1.Y3 T54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
F2520.1.Y3 T54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Examines the destructive impact of journalists, anthropologists, and scientists on the Yanomami Indians, one of the Amazon Basin's oldest tribes.

Author Notes

Patrick Tierney spent eleven years writing Darkness in El Dorado. His first book, The Highest Altar, has been the subject of a National Geographic documentary. He is a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh
Valdir Cruz spent eight months among the Yanomami Indians on a Guggenheim Fellowship. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum, among others, and has been exhibited to critical acclaim at many galleries in North and South America

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Skeptics of the work of anthropologists and journalists will love this scathing account of how the "discovery" of an isolated tribe in the Amazon resulted in the corruption of those people and the devastation of their way of life. Tierney spent 10 years examining the work of famed anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and his book about the Yanomami, published in the 1960s (Yanomamo: The Fierce People). Tierney uncovers the self-serving egotism that imbued Chagnon's work and the research of other anthropologists who claimed discovering the tribe. Journalists later joined the fray in publicizing the secluded tribe. The outsiders fueled competition for trade goods, sparked conflicts that fulfilled anthropological preconceived expectations, and even sexually exploited the Yanomami as anthropologists battled for acclaim. Chagnon brokered the use of Yanomami blood by the Atomic Energy Commission for radiation studies and subverted their land interests in favor of gold miners, all the while pretending to protect them. This is an enthralling and well-researched look at the unscrupulous practices of anthropology and journalism that have resulted in the near extinction of the Yanomami. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

This book, already nominated for a National Book Award, details the tragic encounter between an archaic Amazon people, the Yanomami, and what's depicted as a culturally toxic conglomeration of ruthless social scientists, rapacious financial interests, amoral governments and pop-culture journalists. Tierney (The Highest Altar) argues for an end to the arrogant exploitation of peoples outside of the classical Eurasian traditions. Copiously annotated and well documented, the work is the culmination of a decade-long study of what Tierney claims is false science; along the way, he exposes the dark side of some famous social-biologists. These self-promotors, he argues, cooked statistics and misrepresented behavior among the people they studied in order to support their presuppositions. Tierney explains how the Yanomami's desire for steel implements in their Paleolithic world of hunting, gathering, fishing and rudimentary farming led to exploitation by the observers, who wielded the promise of tools and modern gadgetry to manipulate the native population. Bribing the Indians enabled some scientists, with preconceived genetic theories of violence and dominance, to induce the Yanomami to act in ways antithetical to their own ancient customs. In the end, these flawed studies encouraged and justified mistreatment of this tribal people by Brazilian, Venezuelan and U.S. government agencies and the mining industry. Tierney's indictment exposes the worst depredations of modern cultural imperialism. Photographs and charts, not seen by PW. (Nov. 30) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The latest salvo in the academic mudslinging concerning the study of Yanomami Indians is fired by self-described advocate Tierney (The Last Tribes of El Dorado: The Gold Wars in the Amazon Rain Forest). Echoing themes found in Jared M. Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (LJ 2/15/97), Tierney examines how the Yanomami have been exploited by researchers who have altered Yanomami culture to fit their models and theories. He also documents how the Yanomami have been victimized by biological agents such as measlesDintroduced into their midst by careless researchers and missionary groupsDthat have devastated their population. Tierney singles out Napoleon Chagnon as the most egregious example of self-serving anthropologists victimizing the Yanomami for personal glory. Chagnon, the first anthropologist to study the Yanomami, created a cottage industry among anthropologists with his Yanomam: The Fierce People (1968. o.p.). The documentation here of Chagnon's work collecting blood for geneticists affiliated with the Atomic Energy Commission is particularly disconcerting. Tierney's book is recommended for academic collections in anthropology and medical ethics and for public libraries.DJohn R. Burch Jr., Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This controversial work examines the dark side of scientific research as it was conducted among the Yanomami of Venezuela in the late 20th century by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and the late geneticist Dr. James Neel. Tierney posits that Chagnon's fame as author of perhaps the most-read ethnographic study in the history of anthropology is a direct result of the ways his views about Yanomami male violence and reproductive success coincided with the golden age of American cold war politics. Tierney links Chagnon's research to Neel's Atomic Energy Commission-funded studies of the effects of the bomb on the human genome, and to his interest in discovering a "leadership gene" among "untouched" populations. To gain the data important for these sociobiological theories, Tierney claims that Neel's team administered an inappropriate measles vaccine using questionable methods, perhaps unleashing and/or worsening a 1968 measles epidemic, and that Chagnon fabricated and instigated much of the warfare he described as endemic to Yanomami society. Tierney's book succeeds by providing an important piece of the history of Cold War era-science and makes public long-standing accusations against Chagnon's field practices. It fails by allowing the poorly documented and inflammatory aspects of the study to overshadow the important historical and humanitarian lessons. All collections. K. S. Fine-Dare; Fort Lewis College

Table of Contents

List of Graphsp. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Introductionp. xxi
Part I Guns, Germs, and Anthropologists, 1964-1972
Chapter 1 Savage Encountersp. 3
Chapter 2 At Play in the Fieldp. 7
Chapter 3 The Napoleonic Warsp. 18
Chapter 4 Atomic Indiansp. 36
Chapter 5 Outbreakp. 53
Chapter 6 Filming the Feastp. 83
Chapter 7 A Mythical Villagep. 107
Part II In Their Own Image, 1972-1994
Chapter 8 Erotic Indiansp. 125
Chapter 9 That Charliep. 149
Chapter 10 To Murder and to Multiplyp. 158
Chapter 11 A Kingdom of Their Ownp. 181
Chapter 12 The Massacre at Haximup. 195
Chapter 13 Warriors of the Amazonp. 215
Part III Ravages of El Dorado, 1996-1999
Chapter 14 Into the Vortexp. 227
Chapter 15 In Helena's Footstepsp. 243
Chapter 16 Gardens of Hunger, Dogs of Warp. 257
Chapter 17 Machines That Make Black Magicp. 280
Chapter 18 Human Products and the Isotope Menp. 296
Appendix Mortality at Yanomami Villagesp. 317
Notesp. 327
Bibliographyp. 385
Indexp. 397