Although A Short History of Brazil by Gordon Kerr is short, more so than any history I’ve read yet, it doesn’t mean it actually has a short history. It only means that we know very little of the full history of Brazil or the land that now makes it up. In fact, this lack of knowledge has made it such an interesting topic of research. Point in case: the early 1900s were rife with explorers—particularly Colonel Percy Fawcett—who searched for ancient cities and civilizations since swallowed up by the rain forest. What we know about the natives is just a drop in the ocean of history.
What we know:
- Pre-Colonial Brazil – The Brazilian natives before 1500 have unknown origins. There’s a lot of speculation, but what we do know is that there were a lot more natives before the Europeans came. Their presence decimated the populations. The book describes it as a holocaust event.
- Discovery in 1500 – Pedro Cabral “discovered” Brazil in the 1500s for Portugal, but for the longest time the only thing Portuguese really took from the new world was brazilwood (valued for its red dye).
- Changing Hands – Brazil changed hands in the late 1500s and early 1600s from Portugal, to Spain, to Holland, and back to Brazil.
- Industry – Sugar, cocoa, coffee, and rubber were huge exports. Unfortunately, the natives were used as slave labor and treated abominably.
- 1800s – The 1800s marked a partition of Brazil with France, and then Brazil’s independence in 1822.
- Military Coups – The country suffered a lot of civil and political instability, rife with military coups and dictatorships (like Vargas’ reign of power between 1930-1954).
- Democracy – Democracy only gained a foothold in the late 1900s.
- Amazon Rain Forest – One of the biggest problems facing the country is vast deforestation. More than 231,000 square miles have been deforested.
There’s much that we don’t know about Brazil, and the book did a good job pointing this out in the beginning. The book was short and sweet, a great choice for the amateur history level.
This book has made me want to explore the Amazon even more, a desire I’ve had since I was a child.