44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2002
In his latest book "Light at the Edge of the World - A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures" Wade Davis is quite frank about the motivations behind his around-the-globe adventuring. He says he is driven to the ends of the earth by "simple" curiosity and a horror of boredom. A Harvard-trained botanist and anthropologist, Davis has spent 25 years finding his way into places that most of us don't even know exist . . . and would most likely hesitate about going to even if we did.
From the high Arctic, to the Amazon, to Africa, Tibet, Haiti, Peru and Sarawak, Davis turns his camera and his intelligence. In his travels, the sciences of ethnobotany and anthropology have served him well. As an explorer he takes in the whole glorious panoply of data about people and plants, medicine, language, landscapes, history, custom, and creation myths. He records it painstakingly. Then, he deftly makes sense of it. The motifs of an astonishing array of human cultures dazzle with colour and clarity. Intricate patterns of thought, belief, myth and tradition emerge. Davis calls this body of knowing the "ethnosphere."
The ethnosphere is about those peoples of the earth whose essential humanity has been defined by the landscapes in which they are nurtured. For these people of the ice, the forests, the river deltas, the jungle, the desert sands, and the high mountain plateaus, daily life is both a precise and a fully variant exercise of knowledge and understanding - a long-accumulated wisdom that this world stands much in need of.
"When asked the meaning of being human they respond with ten thousand different voices. It is within this diversity of knowledge and practice, of intuition and interpretation, of promise and hope, that we will all rediscover the enchantment of being what we are. . ." writes Davis.
Of course, it isn't just science that happened to Davis on his way to the edges the world. Like all true pilgrims Davis has continually encountered within himself that intense inner dimension of spirit that is the nature of a human journey. In the enigmatic photographs of this book and the accompanying text, a reader can trace the writer being touched by his subjects, being himself altered by those gestures of imagination, mystery and dream imminent in the people and places he so passionately studies. It is this sense of excitement and spontaneity of learning, eloquently shared, that makes the book such a good read.
In the end, Davis' curiosity is more vast than simple, as is his capacity to absorb knowledge. As for his horror of boredom, perhaps his fears are more profound. As he tells the story, one of Margaret Mead's greatest nightmares was that one day we would wake up, look around and find ourselves all to be the same, and, what's worse, in doing so we wouldn't even remember what we lost.
This book is much more than an exciting travelogue, or a romance of far away places and exotic peoples. Davis' underlying theme is urgent and challenges the complacency of daily life in an industrial and technological society. In Davis' view, the survival of the world's indigenous cultures is crucial to our communal creativity and resourcefulness, if, as he says, those "imperatives driving the highest aspirations of our species were to be the power of faith, the reach of spiritual intuition, the philosophical generosity to recognize the varieties of religious longings." Indeed, if we are to know ourselves to be who we are.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2003
Anthropologist Margaret Mead defined a nightmare as waking up one day and not knowing what we've lost. Anthropologist Wade Davis applies this to the world's languages. Though spoken by about 300 million people, or 5 percent of everybody in the world, these languages are being lost, without having been studied or written down by experts.
From 25 years worth of photographing and traveling worldwide, Davis sees each language as showing how changing and endless are our imaginations. For example, the Micmac name trees by the sound the winds make in the branches, the hour after sunset, in the fall. Native peoples of the Amazon believe that each plant sings in a different key. They've found a way of grouping, by figuring out the keys from talking with the very plants! This works as well, for them, as what botanists have come up with.
Healers, taken from all non-industrialized parts of the world, get food and healing from 40,000 species of plants. This know-how is so great that healing has always meant power. But it wasn't always used kindly.
Healers in West African countries, around the Equator, made sure their patients kept whatever laws were supposed to be followed. They used all their know-how to make rule-breakers take deathly amounts of plants. And to think that I had thought this hardly ever happened, other than the famous cases of the deathly drinks that were forced on Socrates and Tchaikovsky.
But this killing style is still around today, not too far away from the industrialized world, in Haiti. There, sorcerors give outcasts tetrodotoxin. It's a nerve poison in the skin and organs of the tetraodontiformes order of sea fishes. A pin-head size of the poison kills. Sorcerors give enough to make the outcast look dead. When the effects wear off, the outcast appears to come back from the dead. These death and near-death experiences aren't seen the same way as in the United States. Instead, they turn the outcasts into freaks as zombies, the living dead.
LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD carefully follows the author's footsteps in ONE RIVER, RAINFOREST and SHADOWS IN THE SUN. The photography is beautiful, the organization is clear, and the writing is fascinating. Some of what's covered from the many non-industrialized cultures is chilling. So Davis doesn't get into just glorifying non-industrialized people or criticizing industrialized peoples.
From anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, he believes in finding balance in our world of opposites. The first pages told me that this approach would lead to a worthwhile read. For Davis tackles the controversial space program. It cost nearly a trillion dollars, just to bring back, in the words of a southeast Asian nomad, a basket of dust.
But a small part of that paydirt went into the stunning blood-red crystal in the stained-glass window at the National Cathedral in D.C. There, it reminds us all that it took going to the moon and back to make us change the way we look at things, for all time. Languages do that every day.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2009
I am a photographer and was really looking forward to seeing the "dramatic photographs" that "frequently overshadow Davis's informative, witty essays". Other than the book cover, there is not a single photograph in the book. Not one. I ordered four copies based on my expectation that there would be photographs as well as essays, so I was very disappointed. I have since read the book, and it is well-written, heart-felt, thought-provoking and fascinating. I just suggest that the write up be changed to be less misleading.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2002
Traveling the globe requires more than a ticket, a room and a backpack. A traveler unlike a tourist is immersed. Traveling through time and landscapes through the writings of Wade Davis is a timeless and immersive vision. Reading " Light at the Edge of the World " is a spell bounding pilgrimage under Wade Davis' guidance.
Never has the eye of the beholder held more meaning. As I gaze into the depth of his photos and ride with the resonance of his images, I am transported around the globe, immersed into the past and the future of our world. " Light at the Edge of the World " is Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Rudyard Kipling all wrapped into one epic poem.
Even Herodotus would be provoked to wonder with envy at the worlds Wade Davis illuminates. T.E. Lawrence would ride into the desert night with adventurous hunger over this new book " Light at the Edge of the World " is a living treasure of our deepest and most cherished understandings of humanity, the stewardship of the planet, and a visionary quest for poetic diversity.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Wade Davis' long career among isolated peoples and cultures has given him an enviable insight. He manages to connect with people at many levels. They are free and open with him, an obvious outsider. Their stories, legends, life modes all come to light under his gentle persuasive powers. In this outstanding account of his travels and his studies, we share much of what he and his mentors have learned.
The primary message in this book is how cultures vary with their environments. Worldwide, Davis notes, only about five per cent of humanity live in areas relatively untouched by European intrusion. They are scattered, often living in what we deem as "savage" or "desolate", yet they survive and flourish when allowed. Hardly rigid in outlook, these people have learned well how to adapt to changing conditions. They have come to know just how to deal with what Nature has provided. Centuries of experience are put to use on a daily basis, following seasonal and other variations. Their knowledge of the local plants in particular has stood them well, and they have much to offer us. Davis describes how this has developed in many regions, with the Amazon basin an area of his special interest.
Davis acknowledges two special influences in his work - David Maybury-Lewis, his tutor, and Richard Evans Schultes who had spent many years in the Amazon area. Davis followed them, but as his study interests grew, so did the range of his travels. North of the Amazon Basin, he enters the mountains of Columbia to learn the ways of the Kogi and Ika people. He takes us to Northwest British Columbia, where the Grizzly retains a meagre residual territory and meets Atehena [Alex Jack] to learn the ways of the shamans who formerly operated there. In lands once part of the Inca empire, he learns the uses of coca leaves - both social and medicinal. Haiti possesses numerous cultures, many with strong ties to the African homeland. That continent's sad history of imperialist intrusion probably created more artificial "national" boundaries than any other region of the world. Such intrusion causes displacement and Davis is witness to the shamanic rituals of a people only recently forced into a nomadic life.
The author concludes his narrative by describing two areas as opposite as one could imagine - the Red Centre of Australia and the snowy reaches of the Canadian Arctic. He recounts the utter innocence of the European invaders in both regions. British explorers and colonists suffered heavily as a result of their failure to understand how "primitive" people could survive better than "well-equipped" Victorians with their advanced technology and ideals of superiority. As elsewhere, long centuries of experience taught the Aborigines to find water in unlikely places and the Inuit to travel lightly and efficiently. Only in modern times have researchers arrived at an understanding of what "primitives" accomplished.
As he freely confesses, however, the work has only begun. This book is not only informative about how indigenous people have survived conditions deadly to us, but provides pointers about how to apply their knowledge for the benefit of us all. Medicines are but one step in what can be adapted for our use. And more Wade Davises are needed to do the tasks before us. Those new scholars, however, must go to those people to learn, not to change their ways to conform to ours. That would be artificial and self-defeating. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
This is a fascinating, compelling, and well-written book, but it's more of a greatest-hits album than an original. In recapitulating his journeys, Davis actually lifts passages verbatim from One River and perhaps his earlier books--I haven't read those yet. In any case, the material isn't new. A likely exception the chapter on Nunavut, the autonomous Inuit homeland created by Canada.
If you want detailed accounts of Davis's journeys, you're better off reading his earlier books: The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, and The Clouded Leopard. If you want just the condensed story, you're best served listening to his Long Now talk, available free at [...]. Davis is an excellent storyteller, and he relates in an hour what he recounts in this short book, using much the same language.
I hate to say "Don't buy this book" when it's by an author I love. Instead, I'll say, "Buy his other books." I hope your explorations of this dedicated scholar and gifted storyteller won't end here.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2002
Traveling the globe requires more than a ticket, a room and a backpack. A traveler unlike a tourist is immersed. Traveling through time and landscapes through the writings of Wade Davis is a timeless and immersive vision. Reading " Light at the End of the World " is a spell bounding pilgrimage under Wade Davis' guidance.
Never has the eye of the beholder held more meaning. As I gaze into the depth of his photos and ride with the resonance of his images, I am transported around the globe, immersed into the past and the future of our world" Light at the End of the World " is Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Rudyard Kipling all wrapped into one epic poem.
Even Herodotus would be provoked to wonder with envy at the worlds Wade Davis illuminates. T.E. Lawrence would ride into the desert night with adventurous hunger over this new book" Light at the End of the World " is a living treasure of our deepest and most cherished understandings of humanity, the stewardship of the planet, and a visionary quest for poetic diversity.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2007
As far as I'm concerned, Davis is a five-star writer across the board. Not only does this man have more scientific knowledge than he knows what to do with, but he writes about people and plant life with equal flawless prose. This is a good 'starter' book for those who have not yet read him (or, who only heard of "The Serpent and the Rainbow"). His intense interest in, profound respect for indigenous cultures and their people quite obviously generate the trust and knowledge he receives in return. Like his beloved mentor, Harvard's Edward Schultz, he will literally go to 'the ends of the earth'and stay however long it takes so that he may absorb and understand what he finds there. His descriptions (and direct experience)of psychotropic's from the jungles and their place in the culture, should be read by the multi-national plunderers - as well as those whose only frame of reference is Timothy Leary. The natural world around them provide every, single necessary item of life and sustenance for the people. The huge, central-to-life importance of the Shaman is masterfully illustrated. It should be obvious that I cannot say enough in praise of Wade Davis. Go and discover him for yourself, get lost in the wonder of his world - and marvel . . .
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2011
This is another great work by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Wade Davis!
Because I visited several of the tribes covered in this remarkable book, and measured his words against my thoughts and views of them, I accept his elegant prose and beautiful photos regarding the other tribes as equally wise, accurate, and worthy of my respect and yours.
I especially appreciate that Wade saw things I barely noticed while traveling in various parts of the world, but what he saw was exactly what I needed to know then or wanted to know more about now. His depth of recall and ability to construct elegant sentences as well as his artistry with a camera is sufficient to recommend this book to anyone who loves the earth--especially those who live closest to it--the indigenous tribes, wherever you can still find them alive.
Wade's pictures are perfect for his prose. You find yourself examining them more closely after reading the text, but I guarantee you will skim the pics before you read! All is aligned with a loving mind... one that respects people who can and do maintain a sustainable life Westerners can only imagine, but cannot manage. Indigenous people use what they have. Don't go into debt, or let hate control their relationships. Just because we cannot live that simply does not mean others who can should be cheated and harmed to evict them from what they have held sacred for mankind until now.
The book is worth your time, effort and money. I highly recommend it to everyone!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2007
an anthropologist and the author of several books (perhaps the best known of which is 'The Serpent and the Rainbow'), Wade Davis is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and has quite literally traveled the world to search out and study other cultures and their uses of sacred plants. In "Light At The End Of The World: A Journey Through The Realm Of Vanishing Cultures" he has compiled essays based on his researches into the lives, traditions, beliefs, customs, and ceremonies of tribal cultures that range from the Canadian Arctic to the deserts of North Africa, from the rain forests of Borneo and the Amazon, to the mountain communities of the Andes and Tibet, from the swamps of the Orinoco to the wilds of British Columbia, to the cultural landscape of Haiti. All of these cultures share one thing in common - they are in danger of losing their unique ways of life in the face of expanding technological and population encroachments and competitions for resources. A strongly recommended addition to academic, community, and personal library Anthropology and Social Issues reference collections and supplemental reading lists, "Light At The End Of The World" is a compelling read that is an engaging as it is informative, as compelling as it is instructive.