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Margaret Mee’s Amazon. Diaries of an Artist Explorer. Book Review.

Book Reviews
Margaret Mee’s Amazon.
Diaries of an artist
explorer.
Margaret Mee. 2003.
Woodbridge Suffolk, UK:
Antique Collectors’ Club.
£2950 (hardback). 320 pp,
400 colour illustrations.
‘Delight’ said Charles
Darwin in his diaries in
1832, ‘is a weak term to
express the feelings of a nat-
uralist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a
Brazilian forest’. These feelings must have been those
which drove Margaret Mee to explore the Brazilian jungles
on numerous expeditions between 1958 and 1964, creating
wonderful pictures despite all kinds of difficulties en-
countered in this hostile world. And these feelings were
also those I had when I read this book: delight about her
precise drawings and life-like paintings, which are ex-
tremely expressive from an artistic and also from a scientific
point of view. Delight about her writing, which is lyrical
and eloquent, fascinatingly unassuming and modest,
exciting in what she tells and how she tells it. Reading
this book brings up a pleasant mixture of reminiscences
and wanderlust: I recognize many things I have seen myself
on my expeditions to the Amazon, I recall experiences
which I could never write down in such a lively way.
The collection of photographs, paintings and texts
presented in this book triggered in me the thought, ‘what
a pity that I did not meet this wonderful, fascinating
person. And when is the next plane to Amazonia leaving
anyway?’.
The book is not only a brilliant collection of pictures, as
many books about Margaret Mee’s art before, but focuses
on the life history of a very special person. Margaret Mee
(1909–1988) was born in Chesham, England. She studied
art in London and moved to Brazil in 1952 where she
worked as a botanical artist at the Instituto de Botanica
in Sa
˜
o Paulo and explored the Amazon forest on 15 expedi-
tions, between 1964 and 1988. She was always ‘In Search of
Flowers of the Amazon Forest’ (as is the title of one of her
books published in 1988) and not only painted them, but
collected them and found numerous new species—some
have been named after her—and thus contributed consist-
ently to the development of knowledge about the Amazon,
and last and not least to an awareness for the need of its
conservation. In 1988, after she died in a car crash in
England, the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded,
dedicated to further education and research in Amazonian
plant life and conservation.
Margaret Mee’s Amazon diaries reflect the great heritage
that she has created for the future of natural history. The
book starts with a foreword by Prince Philip and by the
renowned scientists Sir Ghillean T. Prance and Richard
Evans Schultes, as well as by the well-known Brazilian
landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Like the famous
journalist Robert MacNeil who wrote the epilogue, they all
knew Margaret Mee from various encounters, each was
struck by her extraordinary personality and each describes
their admiration and fascination for this exceptional person
and her art.
In the Introduction her curriculum vitae is briefly out-
lined, then a series of maps indicate quite precisely the
locations of her journeys and study sites. The main focus
of the book is the diary written by Margaret Mee herself on
her travels between 1956 and 1988. The chapters are laid out
in a chronological sequence, where Margaret Mee gives
detailed travel descriptions with precise names of persons,
places and species. Therefore the text is informative and
enriches our knowledge of the Amazon flora by describing
the mysterious community of nature and illustrating botan-
ical details with words to supplement the information given
by her detailed paintings. As in her pictures, she does not
portray the plants as isolated organisms but as part of a
vegetational whole, which leads to the appreciation of
the interdependence of many of the plants in such an eco-
logically complex environment. Her diary takes us on her
trips through the Amazon and thus the text is an exciting,
adventurous journey through Brazil and through the myths
of the Amazon forest and botany itself. The botanical reality
is shown, mixed to the Amazonian mysticism of the
unknown.
The highly readable text is accompanied by many draw-
ings, coloured pictures and original photographs where
every picture tells the whole story: the mysterious green-
ness, the admiration for the beauty of a flower. It is the
passion and dedication that surely makes the pictures so
fascinating.
In the postscript, her last Amazon expedition is described:
the aim of her fifteenth trip to the Amazon was to find the so-
called ‘moon flower’ cactus, which opens at night and fades
forever at dawn. Since 1965 she had been looking for the
flowers in the wild, and finally, in the last months of her life,
aged 79, she found Selenicereus wittii in flower and spent
the whole night on a boat, drawing and painting every stage
of the plant’s bloom. The book ends by presenting a useful
glossary of indigenous and brazilian names mentioned in
the text together with a ‘Botanical History’: 24 pages with
72 small paintings of plants shown earlier in the book
doi:10.1093/aob/mci118
Annals of Botany 95: 1067–1068, 2005
Available online at www.aob.oupjournals.org
ª The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company. All rights reserved.
For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oupjournals.org
accompanied by their botanical descriptions. Flowering
epiphytes—bromeliads, orchids and cacti—are presented
most commonly. The descriptions are very interesting
and answer such questions as where do the plant names
originate from, who was the person the plant is
named after, what is the meaning of the botanical
name, and what is the ecological particularity of this
species. In this way, we see more than just a straight list
of species, with this chapter presenting interesting details
that can be read with pleasure and which give an insight into
the history of Amazonian botany and great Amazonian
botanists.
All in all, this book is a fascinating supplement to purely
scientific books and a delight for anyone who has wandered
through Amazonian forests themselves or is simply curious
about this botanical wonderland.
Pia Parolin
Methods in molecular
biology, volume 286.
Transgenic plants. Methods
and protocols.
Pe
~
nna L, ed. 2005.
Totowa, New Jersey: Humana
Press.$115(hardback).448pp.
This publication has much
to offer in terms of valuable
information for the student
beginning on their quest for
knowledge, but also for the
more experienced scientist in
terms of emphasizing the pro-
blems and subsequent consequences of the generation of
transgenic crops. The book begins with a general overview
of the methods of generating transgenic crops, targeted traits
for improvement and the important qualities and benefits
that transgenic crops could provide for the future.
The book is then divided into sections, each containing a
broad range of chapters explaining in detail (1) the various
methods of transformation, including Agrobacterium,
particle bombardment, floral dip and chloroplast methods;
(2) the transformation of a wide range of species from
tomato to conifers to citrus fruit; (3) the detection of tran-
sient and stable integration of the gene of interest using
either antibiotic, fluorescence or histochemical markers;
(4) the molecular analysis of transgene integration and pro-
cedure to improve stable integration; and concludes by
looking at (5) risk assessment and (6) the future of trans-
genic crops.
These chapters are all well structured. The protocols are
well laid out, listing every fine detail of the procedure, with
each chapter concluding with important technical notes and
troubleshooting ideas for the reader’s consideration. I found
that the book covered the area of transgenic plant production
well, presenting the reader with a good foundation and
reservoir of information to appreciate the range and pro-
blems of transgenic production. It offers valuable informa-
tion on the methods for transgene detection and on recent
advancements in improving this detection, such as the use of
matrix attachment regions (MARs), in situ hybridization
and thermal asymmetric interlaced PCR. Chapters are
well cited with plenty of further reading available for the
knowledge-thirsty researcher.
The book is well balanced in its appraisal of transgenic
crops by presenting the reader with an account of risk
assessment that includes the problems that may be caused
by dispersal through pollen, the persistence of Agrobacter-
ium, and the future of transgenic crops in a world with an
increasing demand on limited land by a growing population.
The book concludes with a case study of transgenic crop
impact on the environment in several locations including
Hawaii, Jamaica and Venezuela.
However, the impact of those chapters dealing with visual
markers, in situ hybridization and the case study is lessened
by the use of black and white photographs. I felt there was
nothing useful to extract from these photographs since the
impact of these visual markers lays entirely in the colour
differential being displayed. Perhaps the publishers should
think of allowing contributing authors to include one or two
colour photographs where appropriate.
On the whole, it is an interesting book that provides
an insight into the underpinning science, research applica-
tions and concerns about the production of transgenic
crops.
M. D. Wilkinson
doi:10.1093/aob/mci119
1068
Book Reviews
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