Adventure Read of the Month: The Boiling River

the boiling riverAuthor: Andrés Ruzo

In the 1530s, the Inca sent Spanish conquistadors on a wild goose chase into the Amazon to exact revenge for the betrayal and murder of their emperor. The few survivors that emerged from the jungle told of many horrible things, but one detail caught the ear of young Andrés Ruzo when he heard the story from his grandfather: the Spanish spoke of a boiling river, hidden away in the jungle and hot enough to kill.

Years later, Ruzo, a PhD student creating geothermal maps of Peru, finds the legend still on his mind and begins to incorporate a casual search for the river into his research. However, such a river doesn’t appear on any maps and he’s eventually told by a senior corporate geologist to “stop asking stupid questions” because “it makes you look bad.” However, at the insistence of his family that the river is indeed real, he pursues the legend into the depths of the Amazon, making stunning discoveries and learning that sometimes using the “progressive” approach doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make progress.

I didn’t know that TED published books related to their talks until I found The Boiling River (you can check out Ruzo’s full TED Talk here). According to the note in the back of the my copy, TED Books are meant to be “short enough to read in a single sitting, but long enough to delve deep into a topic” and The Boiling River executes this mission perfectly. The book itself is less than 200 pages, which I got through over the course of a single morning, and the story is fast-paced, hard to put down, and engagingly written in the present tense. Initially, I was a little worried that it would turn out to be more of a geophysical research paper than an adventure story, but Ruzo includes only the relevant science and explains it in a way that can be understood by the layman reader. He also delves into more personal conflicts, including his heritage and struggle of revealing a beautiful thing to a world that has a bad habit of destroying beautiful things. The Boiling River is a rare example of a clash of civilizations, traditions, and perceptions that somehow does not end in tragedy.

Recommended for: fans of TED Talks, Amazon literature, and/or adventure stories with a science-y streak.

Takeaway: “Nature tells its own story. Sometimes we misread it – but there is a difference between being open to any outcome and only looking for the one you want.”

Dive deeper: for more information on the ongoing effort to study and preserve the Boiling River, as well as its surrounding rainforest, visit www.boilingriver.org.


“Adventure Read of the Month” is a series showcasing great adventures in book form. If you have a book you’d like to see featured here, let me know at er4schen(at)gmail(dot)com.

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