Brazil: A Biography

Length: 28 hrs and 27 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4 out of 5 stars (31 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

For many Americans, Brazil is a land of contradictions: vast natural resources and entrenched corruption; extraordinary wealth and grinding poverty; beautiful beaches and violence-torn favelas. Brazil occupies a vivid place in the American imagination, and yet it remains largely unknown.  

In an extraordinary journey that spans 500 years, from European colonization to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling's Brazil offers a rich, dramatic history of this complex country. The authors not only reconstruct the epic story of the nation, but follow the shifting byways of food, art, and popular culture; the plights of minorities; and the ups and downs of economic cycles. 

Drawing on a range of original scholarship in history, anthropology, political science, and economics, Schwarcz and Starling reveal a long process of unfinished social, political, and economic progress and struggle, a story in which the troubled legacy of the mixing of races and postcolonial political dysfunction persists to this day.

©2018 Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling (P)2019 Tantor

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not great; not many English alternatives

There are not a lot of English language audio books available on the history of Brazil. I did learn quite a bit however I was left wanting more at every turn.

The narrator is good but does not speak Portuguese (probably some Spanish and French) and her pronunciation is often bad or incorrect which is distracting when you know the actual pronunciation.

The first half of the book dives into the colonial era and spends quite a bit of time trying to convince the reader that slavery is awful. Not even Brazilian slavery, just slavery in general. I would have appreciated more juxtaposition to the north American system and I wanted way more detail on the very interesting nationwide efforts to move the culture past those sins.

The second half focuses on modern era. The author never really gets you inside the heads or hearts of the subjects in the book. It's often a series of factual accounts loosely strung together and every single chapter or section left me wondering "why?" or wanting more detail. Why were the people upset this time? Why did they reinstate him with limited power? Why does the military keep trying to take over? What are the motivations or philosophy of this general or that politician? They lost control of congress? I didn't know there still was a congress. The author often throws out a name soup of people or organizations or artistic works that are never mentioned again which makes it hard to follow which subject we should be paying close attention to. The cultural aspect assumes you already have knowledge of notable artists, songs, movies, etc.

The writing style is also hard to follow. It needs a good editor. It will frequently jump around to different time periods then return. I think the intent is foreshadowing but the execution is awkward. It reads as though individual topics were pulled from another source material and doesn't flow well from event to event. Several times the author will state something like, "The <political maneuver> was a complete success. Unfortunately it had disastrous consequences." Or it will conclude a period, then jump back and talk about something different from that same period.

7 people found this helpful

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A Good Starting Point

It is obviously a daunting task to convey the history of a country, especially a complex country like Brazil, in a single book. But the authors do a good job at providing at least a starting point for those interested in deepening their knowledge of Brazil. I would highly recommend it, especially to Brazilians.

I’ll end my review with this comment: in the history of civilization, very few nations have achieved a higher level of civility. The vast majority were simply mediocre societies that came and went without ever becoming fully developed nations in which the majority of its citizens would say they are happy with their country. I believe Brazil is one of these nations.

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Couldn't finish...just arduous

I very much wanted to like this book. I'm always wanting to try a new biographical subject. But this one is too dry, and too scattered. It's extremely hard to follow. But it just makes it easier to fall asleep. I tried. The poor narrator doesn't help. Her delivery, though polished and precise, just makes an already scattered subject harder to follow and stay engaged. Will try again!

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Very enlightening

As an American without much prior knowledge of Brazil's history, I found this book to be very informative and somewhat depressing with all of the injustices, dehumanization, violence, and rampant corruption. Unfortunately, not very much unlike our own country's history. There's seems to be more unity and sense of community among Brazil's common folk though. Furthermore, all of the slace revolts and uprisings were inspiring to hear about. Escaped slaves ran away by the thousands and took up residence in the jungles, setup collaborative and sustainable communities and defended themselves from constant organized attacks from several enemies for many years. They also raided and killed slave masters.Truly inspiring.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Eye opening and impeccably done

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and intend to begin listening to it again, right away. The provides an unflinching look at the unique often times bloody history of Brazil. The authors take their time to contrast the established narratives of Brazil to the realities of Brazilian life across the centuries. It looks at the role of race, myth and misguided governance in the making of this great country.

The book is excellent.

Christon Scott