Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul by Michael Reid

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Latin America has often been condemned to failure. Neither poor enough to evoke Africa’s moral crusade, nor as explosively booming as India and China, it has largely been overlooked by the West. Yet this vast continent, home to half a billion people, the world’s largest reserves of arable land, and 8.5 percent of global oil, is busily transforming its political and economic landscape. This book argues that rather than failing the test, Latin America’s efforts to build fairer and more prosperous societies make it one of the world’s most vigorous laboratories for capitalist democracy. In many countries, including Brazil, Chile and Mexico, democratic leaders are laying the foundations for faster economic growth and more inclusive politics, as well as tackling deep-rooted problems of poverty, inequality, and social injustice. They face a new challenge from Hugo Chavez’s oil-fueled populism, and much is at stake. Failure will increase the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants to the United States and Europe, jeopardize stability in a region rich in oil and other strategic commodities, and threaten some of the world’s most majestic natural environments. Drawing on Michael Reid’s many years of reporting from inside Latin America’s cities, presidential palaces, and shantytowns, the book provides a vivid, immediate, and informed account of a dynamic continent and its struggle to compete in a globalized world.

Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul

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Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia by Garry Leech

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Independent journalist Garry Leech has spent the last eight years working in the most remote and dangerous regions of Colombia. Unlike other Western reporters, most of whom rarely leave Bogotá, Leech learns the truth about conflicts and the U.S. war on drugs directly from the source: farmers, male and female guerrillas, union organizers, indigenous communities, and many others.
Beyond Bogotá is framed around the eleven hours that Leech was held captive by the FARC, Colombia’s largest leftist guerrilla group, in August 2006. Drawing on unprecedented access to soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and peasants in conflict zones and cocaine-producing areas, Leech’s documentary memoir is an epic tale of a journalist’s search for meaning in the midst of violence and poverty. This compelling account provides fresh insights into U.S. foreign policy, the role of the media, and the plight of everyday Colombians caught in the middle of a brutal war.

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Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon by John Hemming

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This enthralling book brilliantly describes the passionate struggles that have taken place in order to utilize, protect and understand the wonder that is the Amazon. Hemmings riveting account recalls the adventures and misadventures down the centuries of the explorers, missionaries, indigenous Indians, naturalists, rubber barons, scientists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political extremists, prospectors and many more, who have been in thrall to the Amazon, the largest river in the world, with the greatest expanse of tropical rain forest and most luxuriant biological diversity on earth.

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A Gringa in Bogota: Living Colombia’s Invisible War by June Carolyn Erlick

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To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogota, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions – outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities – drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogota for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came to love in 1975 has made such strides toward building a peaceful civil society in the midst of ongoing violence. The complex reality she found comes to life in this compelling memoir. Erlick creates her portrait of Bogota through a series of vivid vignettes that cover many aspects of city life. As an experienced journalist, she lets the things she observes lead her to larger conclusions. The courtesy of people on buses, the absence of packs of stray dogs and street trash, and the willingness of strangers to help her cross an overpass when vertigo overwhelms her all become signs of convivencia – the desire of Bogotanos to live together in harmony despite decades of war. But as Erlick settles further into city life, she finds that ‘war in the city is invisible, but constantly present in subtle ways, almost like the constant mist that used to drip down from the Bogota skies so many years ago’. Shattering stereotypes with its lively reporting, “A Gringa in Bogota” is must-reading for going beyond the headlines about the drug war and bloody conflict.

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Kings of the Mountains: How Colombia’s Cycling Heroes Shaped Their Nations’ History by Matt Rendell

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For the first time Matthew Rendell tells the little-known story of a Latin American country in which cycling is the national sport, whose sportsmen, denied the enormous benefits of prosperity, cutting-edge technology and unlimited sponsorship, have nevertheless achieved prodigious cycling feats both at home and abroad, and helped to forge for Colombia a heroic national identity. He tells of how, during the fifties, Colombia’s own top cycle race, the Vuelta de Colombia, was still being held on dusty, unpaved roads – with consequentially ghastly accidents; of how the first top European cyclists who came to race in Colombia found themselves utterly vanquished by its endless mountain climbs; of how the biography of Colombia’s first cycling superstar was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Then, following the story through to the seventies and eighties, he shows how Colombia’s cyclists began to make their mark abroad, even in the ultimate competition, the Tour de France – and, while they may have lacked the team discipline and the pace training to win the race itself, how to them the premier accolade was to become King of the Mountains, by beating everyone else in the Tour’s most draining mountain stage. And he traces the gradual process whereby Colombia’s irremediable political instability led to the rise of the cocaine cartels, and how, in the world of cycling, sponsorship and the simple desire to achieve the best became inextricably linked with the world of drug smuggling. Kings of the Mountains is a remarkable sports book about outstanding heroism and superhuman achievement, the natural follow-up to the literary interest in cycling generated by Lance Armstrong winning the William Hill.

Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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‘My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house’
Gabriel García Márquez was twenty-three, emerging as a young man and experimenting as a writer, when his mother asked him to come with her, back to the village of Aracataca, back to his grandparents’ house and the memories of his Colombian childhood.
In this first part of Gabriel García Márquez’s memoir, the Nobel prize-winning author returns to the atmosphere and influences that that shaped his formidable imagination and formed the basis of his world-famous, and much-loved, fiction.
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Hell’s Gorge: The Battle To Build The Panama Canal by Matthew Parker

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Hell’s Gorge traces a heroic dream that spanned four centuries: to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.The human cost was immense: in appalling working conditions and amid epidemics of fever, tens of thousands perished fighting the jungle, swamps and mountains of Panama, a scale of attrition comparable to many great battles.
Matthew Parker explores the fierce geo-political struggle behind the heroic vision of the canal, and the immense engineering and medical battles that were fought. But he also weaves in the stories of the ordinary men and women who worked on the canal, to evoke everyday life on the construction and depict the battle on the ground deep in ‘Hell’s Gorge’. Using diaries, memoirs, contemporary newspapers and previously unseen private letters, he draws a vivid picture of the heart-breaking struggle on the Isthmus, in particular that of the British West Indians who made up the majority of the canal workforce.
Hell’s Gorge is a tale of politics, finance, press manipulation, scandal and intrigue, populated by a dazzling cast of idealists and bullies, heroes and conmen. But it is also a moving tribute to the ‘Forgotten Silvermen’, so many of whom died to fulfil the centuries-old canal dream.
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