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The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World
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The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  921 ratings  ·  122 reviews
Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis leads us on a thrilling journey to celebrate the wisdom of the worldOCOs indigenous cultures.
In Polynesia we set sail with navigators whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ. In
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ebook, 280 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by House of Anansi Press (first published October 1st 2009)
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BC
I found this book a little difficult to follow. It wasn't that it was poorly written, or that the individual parts didn't make sense. I found myself waiting for the kicker in his argument, the part where he told the reader why ancient wisdom really does matter.

The chapters all told very compelling stories about various indigenous cultures, and documented the decline of these same cultures in the face of "economic development". Davis talks about different ways of seeing the world, and various re
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Caren
There is a new book by Jared Diamond that is getting a lot of publicity, but it strikes me that Wade Davis lectured on a similar topic back in 2009 for the Canadian Massey Lecture Series, from which this book was taken.
(The Massey Lectures, a week-long annual series of lectures on a political, cultural, or philosophical topic, given by a scholar, have been around since 1961. The series is sponsored jointly by Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio, Anansi Press--which then publishes the lectures in b
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Linda
Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world is what Wade Davis wants us to understand. He points out universal attributes of indigenous peoples and how they are connected to the land and in tune with the natural world they inhabit. The early Polynesian navigators, or “Wayfinders”, could read the movement of the clouds, the stirring of the ocean currents and celestial movements. Long before European explorers like Captain Cook who claimed so many of the islands in the south Pacific to belong t ...more
Dana Larose
I picked this up on my recent Toronto trip. I'd heard one of the lectures (about the Polynesian wayfinders/navigators) on the CBC.

The lectures are an extended discussion about languages (and by extension their cultures) that are in danger of dying out, and why it's important for us to preserve them. Wade Davis has selected a variety of examples of cultures (usually aboriginal) that (1) have entirely different perspectives on the world than the Western cultures and (2) are threatened or still rec
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Jack
That different people from different cultures experience the world in radically different ways is neither new nor controversial. Frequently, however, the conversation ends there, and we might not have a sense of what a totally Other worldview can actually look like. In The Wayfinders, anthropologist Wade Davis brings the reader along as he explores numerous peoples he has lived amongst and traveled within, from Polynesian navigators "pulling islands out of the sea" to Australian Aborigines walki ...more
Tom
The Wayfinders existed first as a series of lectures and the lecture format clearly informs the book. The prose -- which is graceful, evocative, and slightly formal -- has the cadence of spoken language. The downside of the lecture format, however, is that the depth of each segment is limited. Davis's scope is broad and I found myself repeatedly wishing he would delve deeper into the topics he discusses. This is not a criticism. Rather, it is a tribute to Davis's ability to provoke interest in a ...more
Justin
With the converging crises of imminent energy scarcity, environmental degradation, resource depletion and economic insolvency, suddenly I’m recognizing the apogee of our modern civilization may have passed us by a few decades ago. Being on the slope of globalization’s decline as opposed to its ascent or plateau is a precarious position, mainly because the evidence increasingly indicates an ever more bleak definition of the future. But that’s precisely why I found Wade Davis’ 2009 CBC Massey Lect ...more
Sharon Roy
I finished this on the bus in to work this morning, and only now have been able to grab a few minutes to write this review. This was a fascinating read that has, along with _The God Issue_ of New Scientist (published on 19 March 2012), confirmed some of what I already thought I knew about the role of religion in our lives, and has challenged some of my other assumptions, especially beliefs that up until now I tended to label as "superstition". I'll be reading both this book and the New Scientist ...more
Annette
Deeply-felt, intimate, adventuring and evenhanded. A wellspring of resonant facts and lyrical minutae in a beautifully structured greater context.
Jacquelyn
I've followed Wade Davis for some time - not obsessively, just periodically checking in with his books or lectures to see what he's up to. This is his lecture series for CBC radio's Massey Lectures. He explores the value of other ways of seeing and knowing, concepts of time and beauty and value and meaning. His perspective is always anchored in the need to maintain the diversity of cultures, not as static antiques to be studied but as ways of life that should be permitted to evolve along their o ...more
Al
The plague of the Aborigine populations in Australia is so shattering that it made me cry...

One of the central question entrenched throughout the book is why people in Western societies can’t seem to have the same appreciation for nature as the indigenous populations he shows us. Why are many Canadians so egoistic towards the natural world, as opposed to the indigenous societies living in harmony with it, that Canadian firms would even go as far as only see profit in a beautiful land in northern
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Scott
This is the book version of the 2009 CBC Massey Lecture (the "pinnacle" of Canadian intellectualism, if you will). There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in these lectures, but there's a lot of problems as well. Davis' basic argument is this: there is a multiplicity of cultural expressions which humans have formed throughout their collective history; these expressions will take the form of a specific language; these specific languages each reflect a singular manner of interpreting, interact ...more
Sandra
Fantastic book, by a great Canadian anthropologist/botanist writer from the Massey Lectures series about the importance of recognizing the value of individual cultures from Polynesian to Inuit. I was inspired to read this book after watching Wade Davis' ted.com talk on culture and one of his earlier articles in National Geographic on vanishing cultures. This book is written in an engaging narrative form and encourages readers to look beyond their own ethnocentric views of the Western world being ...more
Taylor
As my reading list grows I find more and more books that I feel are essential for -all- people to read.

These books are important because they teach people about the world that they live in, and most importantly, teach them about the mistakes that humans have made in the past. These books are the ones that make readers gasp at their own ignorance to the bloody history that belongs to us all.
Now, while this book isn't specifically a history book, it's a wonderful introduction to Athropology. Davi
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Dorum
This is really a beautiful book. It applies to a lot of things currently happening. I don't know how to write a good enough review of this book.

First of all, I believe that the reason why people are unhappy is because they don't live according to their nature. This book provides a glimpse into how other people devised clever ways to live in accordance to their nature.

Some cool features:

1) Learn about the navigational skills of the Polynesians. People who didn't use a compass to travel the Pacif
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Leonie Starnawski
From the San people of the Kalahari desert and their survival in a forbidding desert landscape, to the skills of the Polynesian navigators who absorb the rhythms of the sea as infants and have an entire map of the night sky in their minds, this collection of essays by National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence reveal a fascinating array of ancient skills and techniques, which we are much the lesser for losing.

Read this and you'll learn how ancient cultures lived in harmony with the environment
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Brian

The essays in this wonderful collection were written for the celebrated Massy Series for CBC. Davis looks to the San tribe who live in the Kalahari desert, as how our ancestors lived before they migrated out of Africa and spread out over the world. The Kahari is one of the most hostile environments in the world. "In English we have 31 sounds. The San have 141, a cacaphony of clicks and cadence that many linguists believe echos the very birth of our language."

In Australia: "Knowing the extraordin
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Isaac Yuen
Brilliant Book. Davis seems to have been EVERYWHERE, but never loses that sense of awe and wonder that pushes the reader to genuinely think about human experiences beyond his/her own. He notes that cultures and languages are being lost at a rate greater than biodiversity loss, and the wonders of human achievements and resilience are being wiped out. Culture is a funny thing: It can unite societies, but it is immensely fragile. Thousands of years of adaptations, oral history and knowledge, can be ...more
David Withun
Davis sets out in this book to prove the value of ancient wisdom to the modern world. The great hurdle he must overcome to do this is the great superstition of the present age: that newer always means better. Derived from this supposition are modern man's cocksure belief in his own superiority over his forefathers and the disdain with which he treats his heritage. Though these hurdles do cripple modern man and must be overcome and though Davis gives us a fascinating attempt at that, ultimately h ...more
Thomas Vree
I’ve read several of his other books and this was just as magnificent. Whether writing or speaking, the mans words are a pleasure to read or hear. The section on the peoples of the Pacific in particular is amazing. Early European explorers of course arrogantly assumed that they were “primitive.” Their navigational abilities, that they could spread out across a huge part of the globe via small boats, centuries, possibly even millennia before Europeans could have achieved such a feat, proves that ...more
Stephen Wong
In his 1962 Massey Lectures titled The Educated Imagination, the literary critic Northrop Frye asked us not just to read and enjoy the reading of literature but to begin to look at "literature as a whole" even as we do so. In his 2009 Massey Lectures called The Wayfinders, the anthropologist Wade Davis asks us not just to gain an understanding of what he termed the "ethnosphere" but also, perhaps in the spirit of Frye nearly fifty years later, to look at "humanity as a whole" (p. 165). This "as ...more
Peter
The Wayfinders is an important book as it brings to the reader, through a series of connected published lectures, a compelling argument for the value, and the absolute necessity, of both coming to understand and the preservation of ancient cultures. The arguments are well-documented, and each of the lectures gain value from the fact that Davis is not merely writing and recording various cultures, but the fact that he has lived them as well. His experiences with the cultures gives an added urgenc ...more
Simon Blair
Author Wade Davis began his professional life as an ‘ethnobotanist’ an unusual combination of syllables which meant he studied the role of particular plants in different world cultures. He was especially interested in the role that the often criminalized Coca leaf played in the culture, diet and health of the Andean peoples of South America, especially in aiding the metabolism of carbohydrates like potatoes, one of their staple food crops. Combining biology, history and languages, Davis’ work ha ...more
Stven
Mar 18, 2012 Stven rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who can change
Recommended to Stven by: Wade Davis on Charlie Rose
Imparted here is a vast and fascinating range of knowledge about dozens of great civilizations. All too many times the story of a great civilization is its centuries of a flourishing, complex way of life, destroyed in a generation by the encounter with the superior weapons and inferior insight of technological Europe and its descendants.

This book is the preservation of a series of lectures commissioned for the University of Toronto. Mr. Davis is a genuine world explorer and a genuine intellectua
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tamarack
The world is still a mysterious and undiscovered place. Polynesian seafarers traverse the ocean without a compass. Aborigines cross the desert with song as their guide. Japanese monks run 80 kilometres a day for one hundred days as just a part of their initiation. “The myriad of cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to the fundamental question, What does it mea ...more
Mark
Fantastic! Probably a modern classic of anthropology. Davis is an incredibly interesting Canadian ethnobotanist/anthropologist and this book is a compilation of several talks called the Massey Lectures. I was lucky enough to hear him give a summary version of these lectures at the IB conference in Singapore this year. As a National Geographic explorer in residence, he also had an amazing slide show to accompany his talk.

The basic crux of the essays in this book is that languages, and therefore c
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Melissa
In academic and anthropological circles, the notion that there is some kind of progression or evolution from "savage" to "civilized" societies has been discredited for some time. In mainstream, popular thought - not so much. That's what's so brilliant about Davis' lectures and writings - he's asking all us laypeople to re-examine our attitudes and prejudices about indigenous peoples and their cultures. And he does it by telling stories about some of the most amazing feats of survival, knowledge, ...more
Michelle
This thought provoking work serves as an anthropological alternative to Jared Diamond's current book. In 2009, Davis suggested that ancient knowledge will benefit present-day populations as we address climate change. As the author walks through the ethnosphere, the reader sees multiple case studies of ancient environmental expertise. Highlights of the book include seafaring Hawaiians using celestial navigation and the peoples of the Andes who use traditional ecological knowledge to manage their ...more
Ben
A set of lectures with the common thread being visible loss of culture over the last 30 years. There are great stories in this book about small an ancient cultures that still exist. Cultures that have tools, thought processes, and practices which are wholly different than the modern Western world. Davis explicitly states that his intention isn't to shame us, but to help us become more aware of the result of our actions as well as become less ignorant to the fact that even the most 'backwards' pe ...more
John
Sometimes got lost in the details. Preached a series of sermons on the epigraphs at the head of every chapter. Interesting focus--not just on the environment, but on cultures being wiped out by (mostly) development. Best chapter is the title chapter, "the Wayfinders."
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CBC Books: October '13 - The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis 103 62 Jan 08, 2014 02:50PM  
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  • Deep Play
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  • Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life
  • After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC
  • Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact
  • Klee Wyck
  • The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
  • Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa
  • A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
  • Voodoo in Haiti
  • Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing
  • The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
  • Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
  • The Ecological Indian: Myth and History
  • Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
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Wade Davis has been described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity."

An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in the Amazon and Andes
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More about Wade Davis...
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“Cultural survival is not about preservation, sequestering indigenous peoples in enclaves like some sort of zoological specimens. Change itself does note destroy a culture. All societies are constantly evolving. Indeed a culture survives when it has enough confidence in its past and enough say in its future to maintain its spirit and essence through all the changes it will inevitably undergo. ” 21 likes
“If diversity is a source of wonder, its opposite - the ubiquitous condensation to some blandly amorphous and singulary generic modern culture that takes for granted an impoverished environment - is a source of dismay. There is, indeed, a fire burning over the earth, taking with it plants and animals, cultures, languages, ancient skills and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame, and re-inventing the poetry of diversity is perhaps the most importent challenge of our times.” 21 likes
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