Dr Mark Plotkin is one of the world’s most renown conservationists and ethnobotanists. As Earth’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is the planet’s single greatest repository of biodiversity, houses the largest number of uncontacted indigenous tribes, and is home to the world’s mightiest river. Yet the Amazon faces a range of dire threats.
In his new book, The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know succinctly summarizes these issues but also adds important context, color, and factoids on why we should care about the fate of the Amazon.
“Written in a clear and engaging style, Mark Plotkin’s book on the Amazon comes at a crucial time, as more and more of Amazonia’s forests are exploited and destroyed and as indigenous leaders, traditional guardians of the forest, are silenced. I could not recommend it more highly.” — Jane Goodall
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Mark Plotkin worked at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology when he joined an expedition searching for an elusive crocodilian species in 1978 and was galvanized into returning to education. He completed his bachelor of liberal arts degree at Harvard University’s Harvard Extension School, his master’s degree in forestry at Yale School of Forestry, and his Ph.D. at Tufts University; during which he completed a handbook for the Tiriyó people of Suriname detailing their own medicinal plants—the only other book printed in Tiriyó language being the Bible. He went on to do research at Harvard under Richard Evans Schultes. He is the author of the book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice. Other critically acclaimed books by Plotkin include Medicine Quest, The Killers Within: the Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria and his new book The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know.
In 1995, Plotkin and prominent Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigal formed the Amazon Conservation Team to protect Amazonian rainforest in partnership with local indigenous peoples. ACT has now worked with 50 tribes throughout Amazonia. Plotkin continues to work with the Tirio of Suriname, and in Brazil as well. He is featured in the 1997 IMAX film Amazon, written by photojournalist Loren McIntyre.
Plotkin received the San Diego Zoo Gold Medal for Conservation (1993) and the Roy Chapman Andrews Distinguished Explorer Award (2004). Time called him an “Environmental Hero for the Planet” (2001) and Smithsonian hailed him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference” (2005), along with other notables like Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and fellow New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis.
In March 2008, Plotkin and Madrigal were among those chosen as “Social Entrepreneurs of the Year” by the Skoll Foundation.
In May 2010, Mark Plotkin received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. The degree citation read in part: “For teaching us that the loss of knowledge and species anywhere impoverishes us all; for combining humanitarian vision with academic rigor and moral sensibility; and for reminding us always, with clarity and passion and humor, that when we study people and plants, we are simultaneously exploring paths to philosophy, music, art, dance, reverence, and healing; Lewis and Clark is honored to confer on you today the Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa.” In October of the same year, the great primatologist Jane Goodall presented Mark with an award for “International Conservation Leadership.”
In 2011, he was the recipient of the Yale School of Forestry Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2019, the Harvard University Extension School gave him the Shinagel Award for Public Service “in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the tribal communities within.