- The Andes: A Geographical Portrait by Axel Borsdorf and Christoph Stadel
On one level, The Andes: A Geographical Portrait is a conventional regional study of the mountainous region that spans the length of western South America. Yet in the hands of Axel Borsdorf and Christoph Stadel, two Austrian geographers, this work is also a loving tribute to a part of the world that has ignited their geographical imaginations for over four decades. The Andes, along with the people who inhabit this 8,000-kilometer mountain chain, is the focus of the book; interest in the political units that divide this formal region is secondary. And while the authors observe hazards, cultural practices, and development trends throughout the region, more attention is given to peoples and events in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
The strength of this work is the depth of the authors' experience and knowledge of the Andes. The book is richly illustrated with over 400 photographs and graphics, most of which were created by the authors. Much of the commentary about the region spans a period of great transition from the 1970s until the present. During that time the Andes went from being relatively closed and poor agrarian communities to ones that have experienced the full force of globalization (good and bad), mixed development strategies, violence, out-migration, natural disasters, and serious challenges due to climate change. The authors emphasize that "together with globalization, climate change is a major driver of change in the Andean natural and cultural landscape" (p 71), especially with the loss of Andean glaciers which are critical to regional water supplies.
Yet the distinctive indigenous character of the Andes is still evident in the concept of lo andino, which is defined as the traditional wisdom, knowledge, ethics, and philosophy, as well as agrarian and community practices, of these highland peoples. In fact, the authors contend that the nurturing of indigenous identities will be crucial in shaping an eth-no-development that could yield a more socially conscious neoliberalism for the region.
The basic structure of this 10-chapter work is thematic and fairly predictable. Beginning with a general discussion of the physical features of the region, it then turns to geophysical [End Page 244] processes such as vertical zonation, natural hazards, and the hydrological significance of the Andes as the "water tower" for the continent. This is followed by an analysis of environmental conservation and the growth in protected areas. The fourth chapter focuses on cultural history, both pre-Columbian and colonial, while the fifth turns to social structures and demographic processes, including internal and international migration. The authors then devote a robust chapter to urban and rural settlement patterns, followed by one on economic structures that reviews agriculture, mining, industry and tourism. Chapter 8 on transportation and chapter 9 on geopolitical issues seem more obligatory than inspired. The book ends with a thoughtful discussion of the region's contemporary development issues.
Some of the more innovative chapters include the discussion of environmental conservation, from protected lands to conservation of native crops. Chapters 6 and 7 offer rich examples of changing rural and urban practices as well as the key economic activities that have long shaped this region, especially agriculture and mining and, more recently, tourism. For some countries, such as Peru, tourism has become the second major source of income after mining. While the authors briefly discuss coca production in chapter 7, more could have been said about the economic and politically destabilizing consequences of coca production for Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. Also, given the significant literature on political ecology for this region, more could be included in this book.
This is a deeply descriptive work that carefully integrates both physical and human geography and is conscious of change over time, from pre-Columbian societies to the present but most of the discussion is about change over the...