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Publisher's Summary

A captivating new book from Wade Davis - award-winning, best-selling author and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence for more than a decade - that brings vividly to life the story of the great Río Magdalena, illuminating Colombia's complex past, present, and future.

Travelers often become enchanted with the first country that captures their hearts and gives them license to be free. For Wade Davis, it was Colombia. Now in a masterly new book, Davis tells of his travels on the mighty Magdalena, the river that made possible the nation. Along the way, he finds a people who have overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, informed by an enduring spirit of place, and a deep love of a land that is home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. As Gabriel García Márquez once wrote during his own pilgrimage on the river: "The only reason I would like to be young again would be the chance to travel again on a freighter going up the Magdalena". Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach verdant Andean valleys rising to soaring ice-clad summits. This rugged and impossible geography finds its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments explosive and wild. 

Both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer, the Magdalena has served in dark times as the graveyard of the nation. And yet, always, it returns as a river of life. 

At once an absorbing adventure and an inspiring tale of hope and redemption, Magdalena gives us a rare, kaleidoscopic picture of a nation on the verge of a new period of peace. Braiding together memoir, history, and journalism, Wade Davis tells the story of the country's most magnificent river, and in doing so, tells the epic story of Colombia.

©2020 Wade Davis (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"This shimmering portrait of the Río Magdalena, evoking its moods and depths, ultimately reveals the complicated nation those waters sustain and reflect. Never wincing from dark histories, yet never abandoning hope, Wade Davis shows us why Colombia stole his heart as a young traveler and holds it still." (Kate Harris, author of Lands of Lost Borders)

"Few people can interpret Colombia, this most complicated of countries, as Wade Davis does; fewer people still can write about it with such empathy, knowledge and grace. Magdalena is the ultimate proof that Colombia’s present and past are inextricably linked to the larger fate of the American continent. To say that the book deserves to be read is perhaps inaccurate; I’d rather say that anyone who wishes to understand this mysterious corner of the world deserves Magdalena. It is a capacious, generous and illuminating book." (Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling)

"Ardent.... Davis stocks his lively narrative with piquant characters, dramatic historical set pieces, and lyrical nature writing.... The result is a rich, fascinating study of how nature and a people shape each other." (Publishers Weekly, starred)

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  • Jeff M
  • 2020-11-29

Living in Colombia

for the last 5 years but with bits and pieces of the county's history - Magdalena is a colorful lesson of it's history, It covers 1000 years up to present day political conflicts from the perspective of the river. I now have a million more places to explore in this breathtaking county.