Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates and Richard Spruce were English naturalists who went to Amazonia 150 years ago. Each of the three explored an unknown river and had many thrilling adventures: they faced fearful rapids and threats of murder; they encountered remote indigenous peoples; and they also experienced shipwrecks, hunger, violent attacks of malaria and many other hardships.
Despite all, they were wonderfully happy during their years in this ‘paradise’ of forests and rivers. Their prodigious collecting included thousands of insects and plants new to science, and in addition to their huge contribution to knowledge of the Amazonian environment each is particularly famous for one discovery.
Wallace is acknowledged as a co-discoverer, along with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Bates discovered protective mimicry among insects, a phenomenon named after him. Spruce transported the quinine-bearing Cinchona tree, the greatest medicinal plant of the nineteenth century, to India, where it saved countless lives from malaria.
Few people in the world know or have written as much about the Amazon region as John Hemming, drawing on direct experience going back fifty years. Naturalists in Paradise is a masterwork of loving and informed storytelling, the first to combine all three young men’s experience of the Amazon.