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Book review: 'Tracks in the Amazon' tells a story, shares photos of the struggle to build a railroad through the Amazon jungle

By Steve Larson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, March 1 2014 3:00 p.m. MST

"TRACKS IN THE AMAZON: The Day-to-Day Life of the Workers on the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad," by Gary Neeleman and Rose Neeleman, University of Utah Press, $29.95, 195 pages (nf)

In a new book titled "Tracks in the Amazon," authors Gary and Rose Neeleman share the story of the building of the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad. The story begins in 1867 with the Bolivian government deciding to build a railroad through the Amazon jungle in order to have a way to deliver shipments to foreign markets.

After many delays due to lack of funding, the project was revived in 1907 due to the new Brazilian Republic's desire to supply rubber to the newly industrialized United States and Europe. The contract was awarded to an American businessman named Percival Farquhar. He was given four years to complete the project.

This book is filled with stories of the men who struggled to build this railroad. Many lost their lives to the harsh jungle environment or contracted malaria or yellow fever. It also contains poetry, written by some of these men, describing the daily life of a railroad worker.

Probably most fascinating is the number of rare photographs displayed in this book. Most of the photographs were taken by a commercial photographer who was hired by the railroad to document the construction. These 102-year-old photographs were taken to the University of Utah Marriott Library, where a high-definition scanner was able to reproduce them for publication.

Included with the photographs were copies of an English newspaper named the Marconigram. The newspaper was published from 1909 to 1911 and documented the final years of the railroad's construction. The newspaper copies were also scanned and included in this book.

The railroad was shut down once Asia became the world's major supplier of rubber.

This book does not contain any references to sex or violence, but some of the photographs show limited nudity.

Gary Neeleman is currently the honorary Brazilian consul for the state of Utah.

If you go ...

What: Gary Neeleman speaking as part of the "Brasil Beneath the Surface" series at BYU

When: Wednesday, March 5, 3 p.m.

Where: Education in Zion, Joseph F. Smith Building gallery, Brigham Young University

Web: kennedy.byu.edu/events/pdfs/brasil-neeleman_5mar14.pdf

Note: The event is free and open to the public.

Steve Larson is one of the founders of Information Alliance, a Utah-based data collection company. He currently serves as vice president of sales. He spends his free time writing and practicing photography. He also enjoys spending time outdoors.

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