Books by Wade Davis

Released: Oct. 20, 2011

"More detail-bludgeoning than riveting tale of mettle against mountain."
Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Davis (The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, 2009, etc.) exhaustively charts the first epic assaults on Mount Everest by determined Englishmen after the devastation of World War I. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

The wonders of the diversity of various cultures and their relationship to their landscape—from the high Arctic and the northern forests to the swamps of the Orinoco—are hunted, gathered, and honestly appreciated here by the peripatetic Davis (One River, 1996). Davis is a sojourner in remote places. He tarries, hoping to get a taste of the intimate, deep reverence for the home place that indigenous people experience by staying put, to sample some of the mythopoetic associations and enigmatic happenings that spring like gifts from the land for those who sit still long enough to witness. Here he recounts a dozen journeys, some in search of ethnobotanicals, some to expose himself to the poetics of a particular patch of ground, others to get a psychic education, as when he accompanies the Haitian Vodouns in their pilgrimage to sacred places, both terrestrial and ethereal. There is a good profile of Bruno Manser, a Swiss who went to live among Sarawak's Penan and joined them in their fight against the pillagers (many of them governmental) of their forest, thus becoming "a fugitive straddling the cusp of cultures." That same place, the shear zone, is inhabited by hamans, and Davis has been disturbed and fascinated in many of his travels by these men and women operating outside our familiar calculus of explanation. And as an ethnobotanist, he is drawn to the human potential unleashed by profoundly altered states—firewalking, slowing heartbeats to near imperceptible levels—and the psychotropics that serve as launch pads. One such hallucinogen comes from a monstrous toad that secretes a drug from glands on its head; it seems very handy for a quick slurp, but it turns out that you have to toke the toad to get the best buzz. Davis's lovely, cubist, rich landscape portraits are also topographies of the spirit, conveying a sense of place, but perhaps even more, the music of place. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A fascinating narrative of the exploits of Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, interwoven with the much more benign adventure of his student, author and ethnobotanist Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1986). Beginning in the middle 1930s and for the greater part of the next two decades, Schultes journeyed throughout the remote Amazonian jungle to study the psychoactive and medicinal plants used by its indigenous peoples. His discoveries—including the natural plant source for LSD—have filled the annals of ethnobotany and helped kick off the hallucinogenic era of the 1960s. Schultes survived beriberi, malaria, frequent capsizings, and airplane accidents. But perhaps his most adventurous and sometimes dangerous forays were into the psychoactive drug rituals of tribes located deep within the Colombian and Brazilian rainforests. Schultes was recruited by the US government in the late '30s to find and develop new, blight-resistant sources of rubber, a project that was foolishly abandoned, according to Davis, because of bureaucratic infighting and ineptitude. Faintly echoing Schultes's saga is Davis's account of his own 1970s expedition, when he accompanied the ethnobotanist Tim Plowman to the Andean regions of Peru and Colombia to collect specimans of coca and study its cultivation patterns; in the footsteps of their mentor, Schultes, both men sample the hallucinogenic effects of various potions, chew coca leaves, and find themselves in some dicey situations on mountain roads. These episodes are flavored with revealing histories of the brutal Spanish conquest and the more recent but equally gruesome enslavement of Indians to the rubber trade, and contain some sprightly written, at times dryly ironic travel prose. But Davis's own experiences pale by comparison with the main narrative and are interjected at seemingly random intervals. Although Davis might have been better advised to scale down, this is an exceptional tale of 20th-century scientific exploration and a rousing travelogue to places both real and illusory. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >