Danger in the Congo! The unexplored Amazon! Long perceived as a place of mystery and danger, and more recently as a fragile system requiring our protection, the tropical forest captivated America for over a century. In The Maximum of Wilderness, Kelly Enright traces the representation of tropical forests–what Americans have typically thought of as “jungles”–and their place in both our perception of “wildness” and the globalization of the environmental movement.
In the early twentieth century, jungle adventure–as depicted by countless books and films, from Burroughs’ Tarzan novels to King Kong–had enormous mass appeal. Concurrent with the proliferation of a popular image of the jungle that masked many of its truths was the work of American naturalists who sought to represent an “authentic” view of tropical nature through museums, zoological and botanical gardens, books, and film. Enright examines the relationship between popular and scientific representations of the forest through the lives and work of Martin and Osa Johnson (who with films such as Congorilla and Simba blended authenticity with adventure), as well as renowned naturalists John Muir, William Beebe, David Fairchild, and Richard Evans Schultes. The author goes on to explore a startling shift at midcentury in the perception of the tropical forest–from the “jungle,” a place that endangers human life, to the “rain forest,” a place that is itself endangered.
“In this engaging book, Kelly Enright explores a complex relationship: as encounters with tropical forests help to shape American ideas about wilderness and conservation, those same ideas reciprocally influenced the management and exploitation of forests far outside the borders of the United States.”
Harriet Ritvo, MIT
“This innovative and imaginative book explores the tangled thicket of images associated with ‘the jungle’ in American culture during the first half of the twentieth century. Enright reveals how the jungle encounters of a handful of influential figures profoundly shaped America’s changing experiences and interpretations of tropical forests.”
Mark V. Barrow Jr., Virginia Tech
Osa and Martin tells the story of legendary filmmakers and adventurers Osa and Martin Johnson, who, from the 1910s through the 1940s, brought the jungles of Africa and the South Pacific to millions of Americans on reel after movie reel. All the while, Osa did her best to create a home for them in the wildest of places. But beyond their work, equally if not more fascinating is their relationship to each other. Instead of living predictable lives, Osa and Martin were always seeking the next daring exploit. Osa did not simply accompany her husband on his explorations—she was the heroine and the heart of those adventures. “I have had the right sort of woman to take along with me into the desert and jungle,” said Martin. “If ever a wife were a partner to a man, it is Osa Johnson.”
Back in America, Martin found respect among the scientific community and was a member of the world-famous Explorers Club. Osa became one of high society’s most admired women, respected for her intrepid spirit as well as her inimitable fashion sense. Both became influential voices in the field of wildlife conservation.
In Osa and Martin Kelly Enright brings this amazing couple fully to life. She chronicles their journey from a honeymoon among cannibals to safari camps in lion country. In doing so she captures the true spirit of two people who explored and delighted in the world around them as that world, in turn, transformed them.
“Enright showcases the careers of Osa and Martin Johnson, explorers, wildlife-movie pioneers, and inseparable adventure seekers…The couple’s delight and happiness in living the life they made for each other shines through.”
“a thrilling and inspiring read”
“Enright reminds us of a time when the journey really meant more than the destination…[and] illustrates both the remarkable feats and pioneering spirit of America’s past as well as the questionable attitudes that made those feats possible.”
“Success here owes as much to author as to subject. The former, a cultural and environmental historian, acquits herself admirably, distilling fact from fiction, employing supple and incisive prose, and trailing casual acumen in her measured wake.”