In this well-conceived, thoroughly researched, and engagingly written study, the product of a master's thesis at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Thiago Moratelli gives us both a penetrating analysis of the system of contract labor deployed to build a railroad across the wilds of western São Paulo and southern Minas Gerais in the decade before World War I and an often poignant account of the high human toll it took on its thousands of workers.

The Noroeste do Brasil was the biggest railroad project of its day, and one of the biggest economic undertakings: an ambitious plan to lay 1,600 kilometers of track through a wilderness of dense forest and fever-ridden swampland, home to jaguars, snakes, swarms of disease-bearing mosquitoes, and a hostile indigenous population. Designed to open this wilderness, not to export lucrative products, it could expect no profits on operation...

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