People of the Rainforest

The Villas Boas Brothers, Explorers and Humanitarians of the Amazon

September 2019 9781787381957 288pp
EU Customers


In 1945, three young brothers joined and eventually led Brazil’s first government-sponsored expedition into its Amazonian rainforests. After more expeditions into unknown terrain, they became South America’s most famous explorers, spending the rest of their lives with the resilient tribal communities they found there.

People of the Rainforest recounts the Villas Boas brothers’ four thrilling and dangerous ‘first contacts’ with isolated indigenous people, and their lifelong mission to learn about their societies and, above all, help them adapt to modern Brazil without losing their cultural heritage, identity and pride.

Author and explorer John Hemming vividly traces the unique adventures of these extraordinary brothers, who used their fame to change attitudes to native peoples and to help protect the world’s surviving tropical rainforests, under threat again today.


‘Distinguished by fine scholarship, deft writing, and a vivid sense of being there, Hemming’s books bring readers a deep understanding of individuals and cultures far from the here and now … Rich in human detail and love of nature, People of the Rainforest is a wise, moving and important book.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘At this frankly apocalyptic moment for indigenous rights in Brazil, [this] is a timely work … it is packed with detail and fascinating anecdotes.’ — Literary Review

‘It is the Xingu’s intricate cultural ecology, ethno-history, and political dimensions that the book captures in particularly vibrant hues. Hemming’s elegant descriptions of Xinguanos’ agroecology, material culture, cosmological beliefs, and social rituals are paeans to biocultural diversity.’ — Hispanic American Historical Review

‘Protecting and restoring the Amazon rainforest is essential for maintaining global biodiversity and a stable climate. Earth scientist Antonio Nobre suggests … “what scientists need to do is listen to the wise people of the forest.” We can be thankful, then, that John Hemming introduces us to some of them in People of the Rainforest.’ — Geographical

‘A lively, detailed portrait of [the Villas Boas brothers]. At its heart is the brothers’ dangerous quest through the impenetrable vastness of the rainforest … enjoyably written … instructive on this period of Brazilian history and as evocative for those who have worked in the region as it is exhilarating for those seeking tales of adventure … This fascinating book will interest a wide variety of readers.’ — Journal de la Société des américanistes

‘The journeys of the Villas Boas brothers make up one of the great stories of twentieth-century exploration, and John Hemming tells it with his customary assurance and authority. […] Uplifting and heartbreaking, it’s an absorbing account of three men who committed their lives to understanding one of the world’s most impenetrable environments.’ — Sir Michael Palin

‘Hemming presents his hallmark combination of forensic research, vivid prose and gripping narrative to tell the compelling story of three brothers’ explorations in the Amazon rainforests. […] As Brazil’s new President ramps up the rhetoric that is a prelude to the further plunders the lands of the rainforests Indians, historic counterpoint is provided by a writer who is not only a fellow explorer, but also an exceptional scholar.’ — Tony Juniper, CBE, environmentalist and author of Rainforest – Dispatches From Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines

‘Any book by John Hemming is cause for celebration, but this is the one he was destined to write. Himself a renowned Amazonian explorer and crusader for the rights of indigenous peoples, he turns his literary lens on the legendary Villas Boas brothers, whose singular devotion to justice resulted in vast expanses of the Brazilian Amazon being set aside as the legitimate and undeniable homelands of scores of tribal nations.’ —Wade Davis, Amazonian botanist and National Geographic Explorer in Residence, and author of Into the Silence, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize


John Hemming is a former director of the Royal Geographical Society and the author of many books, including The Conquest of the Incas. He is a renowned explorer of Amazonia and the leading authority on the history of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

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