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Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures Hardcover – February 1, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"As a young anthropologist I never understood how I was supposed to turn up at some village... announce that I was staying for a year, and then notify the headman that he and his people were to feed and house me while I studied their lives," writes Davis (Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire) in the introduction to this stunning collection of photographs that span the 25 years of his career. His solution was to find cultural common ground through the study of food and plants, which often was the ostensible reason for his travels through Canada, the Andes, the Amazon, Haiti, Kenya and Tibet. While Davis emphasizes that "at no time was photography [my] principal pursuit," his photographs are visually dazzling. A smiling Barasana boy of the Northwest Amazon holds a brilliantly colored macaw. A man in Haiti stands beneath the downpour of a torrential cataract, his clothes torn off by the force of the water. Indeed, these dramatic photographs frequently overshadow Davis's informative, witty essays, which introduce each of the seven chapters. In these, he shares anecdotes about the people he's met, reflects on the effects of colonialism in these areas and laments the uncertain fate of groups like the Penan of Borneo and the nomads of Kenya. Beautifully designed and produced, this album will delight armchair travelers.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Ethnobotanist and anthropologist Davis, author of One River (1996) and Shadows in the Sun (1998), has traveled the world for 25 years, pen and camera in hand, to study the myriad ways indigenous people live in physical and spiritual intimacy with the natural world. Driven by curiosity and a profound respect for the "ethnosphere," humanity's diverse "thoughts, beliefs, myths, and intuitions," Davis has dwelled among the people of the Arctic, the Amazon, Haiti, Kenya, Borneo, Australia, and Tibet, learning their modes of being, cosmologies, and botanical expertise. His quest has rendered him acutely sensitive to the connection between biodiversity and cultural diversity, and as he portrays in pellucid language and magnificent photographs healers, shamans, hunters, and men, women, and children adept at survival in the most demanding of wildernesses, he decries the rampant environmental destruction and globalization that are decimating indigenous cultures, thus depriving future generations of their knowledge, wisdom, and unique perspectives. Aesthetically powerful in both word and image, this essential volume opens readers' eyes and imaginations to the wonders of the earth and humanity's varied "insights into the very nature of existence," a bounty and legacy we simply cannot do without. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (February 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792264746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792264743
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 0.7 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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. . .
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By A Customer on May 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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