This work is believed to have been written in 1618 by the crypto-Jewish Brazilian businessman Ambrosio Fernandes Brandao. His motive seems to have been to promote Brazil by describing all the wonders therein, including mineral, plant, animal, and human resources. For the typical American reader, who knows nothing of Brazilian history, the editors have thoughtfully provided a brief historical summary. I was surprised to learn how active the Dutch were in Brazil, at one time capturing 7 of 15 captaincies. The book itself is fascinating, providing a detailed glimpse at life in those early days. The author digresses frequently with interesting effect. He reproduces some prehistoric petroglyphs found in a cave, he debates whether the Indians are of oriental or Israelite origin, and he discusses the origin of syphilis. On this latter point a 1987 article in Nature concluded on the basis of bone lesions and immunofluorescent assays that an extinct bear who lived in Indiana 11,500 years ago had a syphilis-like treponemal disease. There is a scary account of tropical diseases, and an even scarier account of their treatment by physicians of the day. One remedy expels intestinal parasites by a mixture of gunpowder, lemon, pepper, and whiskey, the procedural details being omitted here. At one point [he] gets carried away in his promotional enthusiasm, saying that Brazilians enjoy having a certain type of insect burrow into the skin of their feet because the itching is so pleasant. An excellent, entertaining book for those interested in South American exploration and settlement.
David C. Jolly, 1988
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