Growing out of a doctoral dissertation in the history and sociology of science program at the University of Pennsylvania, Eve Buckley's new book provides important insights into the problems of the semiarid backlands, or sertão, in the Brazilian interior, which is prone to periodic but unpredictable and devastating droughts, and into the myriad failures to address these problems. Buckley organizes her book in a distinctive way. Most chapters focus on a particular profession and its members' approaches to the Northeast's concerns. After providing background on the definition of the region itself as a problem following the Great Drought of 1877–79, she primarily focuses on the period from 1909, with the creation of the Departamento Nacional de Obras Contra as Secas, to 1964. In each case, she demonstrates that many of those attempting to address the region's issues were well meaning and...

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