Masters of the Lost Land: The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World's Last Frontier (Hardcover)

Masters of the Lost Land: The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World's Last Frontier By Heriberto Araujo Cover Image

Masters of the Lost Land: The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World's Last Frontier (Hardcover)


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In the tradition of Killers of the Flower Moon, a haunting murder mystery revealing the human story behind one of the most devastating crimes of our time: the ruthless destruction of the Amazon rain forest—and anyone who stands in the way

Deep in the heart of the Amazon, the city of Rondon do Pará, Brazil, lived for decades in the shadow of land barons, or fazendeiros, who maintained control of the region through unscrupulous land grabs and egregious human rights violations. They razed and burned the jungle, expelled small-scale farmers and Indigenous tribes from their lands, and treated their farmhands as slaves—all with impunity. The only true opposition came from Rondon’s small but robust farmworkers’ union, led by the charismatic Dezinho, who fought to put power back into the hands of the people who called the Amazon home. But when Dezinho was assassinated in cold blood, it seemed the farmworkers’ struggle had come to a violent and fruitless end.

What no one anticipated was that this event would bring forth an unlikely hero: Dezinho’s widow. Against great odds, and at extreme personal risk, Maria Joel, now a single mother of four young children, used her ingenuity and unwavering support from union members to bring her husband’s killer to account in court. Her campaign gained unexpected momentum, helping to bring international attention to the dire situation in Rondon, from Brazil’s president Lula to international celebrities and civil rights groups.

Maria Joel’s fight for justice had far-reaching implications: it unearthed a chilling world of corruption and lawlessness rooted in Brazil’s quest to turn the largest rain forest on earth into an economic frontier. As more details came out, it began to look increasingly likely that Dezinho’s killer, a reluctant and inexperienced gunman, was just one piece of a larger criminal consortium, with ties leading all the way up to one of the region’s most powerful and notorious fazendeiros of all.

Featuring groundbreaking revelations and exclusive interviews, this gripping work of narrative nonfiction is the culmination of journalist Heriberto Araujo’s years-long investigation in the heart of the Amazon. Set against the backdrop of appalling deforestation rates and resultant superfires, Masters of the Lost Land vividly reveals the human story behind the loss of—and fierce crusade to protect—one of our greatest resources in the fight against climate change and one of the last wild places on earth.

Heriberto Araújo is journalist based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A grantee of the Pulitzer Center's Rainforest Journalism Fund, Araújo reports on Amazonia for the New York Times. He contributed to the NYT's special Sunday section, "The Amazon Has Seen Our Future" (October 2020). He previously was a China correspondent for The Times of London and The Telegraph. He has co-written three books on China, all originally published in Spanish. His books have been reviewed by The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian and Literary Review.

“A gripping true crime mystery that transports readers into the heart of the Amazon to witness the human toll of its destruction and the incredible will of its people to fight for the future of this unique place – and the planet. Masterfully reported and engagingly written, this is a must-read.”  — Greg Grandin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The End of Myth

"Intriguing. ... A harrowing and deeply researched report from the front lines of the battle for the Amazon." — Publishers Weekly

"Excellent. ... An arresting examination of the history of extreme deforestation and violence in the Brazilian Amazon." — Kirkus Reviews

"With a journalist’s insight and a scholar’s scrutiny, Heriberto Araujo tells the timeless story of dominance, displacement, murder and social injustice that drive large-scale environmental destruction. Masters of the Lost Land documents an Amazonian version of one culture suppressing another through violence, force, and corruption. On the surface, Araujo’s case study offers more understanding of the past than hope for the future, yet its central heroine provides the kind of inspiration needed to break the cycle of frontier corruption and destruction." — Roman Dial, bestselling author of The Adventurer's Son

"Masters of the Lost Land is journalism at its absolute best, made even more impressive when one considers the obstacles, obfuscation and threats so often encountered there when trying to ferret out the truth. I’ve often suspected that the modern history of the Amazon parallels the 19th- century cattle wars and gold rushes of the American West: it has, but in overdrive. This is an essential book, and my only criticism is selfish – that it wasn’t around earlier (to make my own writing easier)." — Joe Jackson, author of The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire

"Heriberto Araujo, drawing on his years of research, has written an essential journalistic account of the murder, mayhem and mind-boggling corruption surrounding the assault on the Amazon. It is a compelling account of an ongoing natural catastrophe." — Dr. Gary Sick, Columbia University, Board Member of Human Rights Watch (emeritus)

“A tour de force. Araujo's masterful reporting from the frontlines in the war for the world's most important tropical biome should be required reading for policy makers, and for anyone who cares about the fight for social and environmental justice for Amazonia's forest peoples.” — Dr. Jeremy M. Campbell, author of Conjuring Property: Speculation and Environmental Futures in the Brazilian Amazon

"Heriberto Araujo does a significant service to Amazonia by providing a look into the social hell that accompanies the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. ... No one can read this account without coming to the conclusion that we must prevent such events from continuing. Perhaps this book will help achieve this end, and for this we owe thanks to Heriberto Araujo and to all those who risked their lives to tell their experiences to him." — Philip M. Fearnside, research professor at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Manaus, Brazil