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Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  461 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
For more than 30 years, renowned anthropologist Wade Davis has traveled the globe, studying the mysteries of sacred plants and celebrating the worldOCOs traditional cultures. His passion as an ethnobotanist has brought him to the very center of indigenous life in places as remote and diverse as the Canadian Arctic, the deserts of North Africa, the rain forests of Borneo, t ...more
ebook, 225 pages
Published May 14th 2014 by Not Avail (first published October 31st 2001)
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Sam Beer
Davis is a compelling writer, and reading this book did make me want to go to more cool places and do more cool things, but i never feel like i ended up going where he was trying to take me. It seemed like he was at his most effective when speaking in broad generalities (It's bad when the government destroys the ecological milieu of a given culture! People with good intentions can do bad things!), but it seemed like when he dealt with very specific cases (Person X had effect Y on culture Z) he p ...more
Ashley Chen
Oct 23, 2013 Ashley Chen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Lol my biopharm prof recommended Wade Davis :3 lol sooo..yeah....
It seems appropriate to be writing this review on Indigenous Peoples Day, otherwise known as Columbus Day, since Light at the Edge of the World is a quick tour through some of Wade Davis’s encounters with, and reflections on, the lives of a dozen or so groups of people still living more or less traditionally in the face of globalization.

Whether hunting for hallucinogens with the Barasana in the Amazon basin and the Kogi in the mountains of Colombia, or for seal with the Inuit in the Arctic, Davi
Todd Martin
Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures contains descriptions of some of the work that Davis has done as an academic studying indigenous peoples.

Before I launch into a bit of criticism, let me first say that I thought the bulk of the book was quite interesting. Davis is an ethnobotanist and seems particularly drawn to bizarre and fascinating topics such as hallucinogens, shamanic rites, coca, and the fish toxin used to create zombies in Haiti. These to
Sep 25, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I discovered Wade Davis when he delivered the Massey Lectures a few years ago. This is a collection of a few of his essays. Davis is a botanist and and anthropologist and in this collection he recounts the fascinating story of how he became the powerful advocate for preserving culture and language that he is. Davis explains that our current world is facing a tragic extinction of languages and cultures and he goes on to illustrate the rich heritage that every culture adds to our collective reserv ...more
Nov 08, 2009 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Wade Davis uses words well. I still haven't forgotten the "cloak of conformity" that he describes falling over the indigenous people he writes about. He takes us to Tibet, Australia, the Inuit lands, the Amazon, Africa, and Indonesia. He has friends in these places, people that trust him and his good intentions. He calls the the world an ethnosphere--a sphere of people groups, amazing in in its diversity. I learned a lot from this book--about the despair and demoralization of so many robbed of t ...more
Jul 27, 2008 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure, travel, culture
Due to the size of this book, many would simply think of it as a coffee table photography book. While the photos are quite stunning, all captured by Davis himself over the last 25 years in the field, it is the text that is the real gem. Davis currently researches as a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, but his career has led him to very remote areas of the world to learn about the distinct "ethnosphere", and the modern phenomenon of these vanishing cultures. With amazing detail, ...more
Ayako Ezaki
Jul 22, 2014 Ayako Ezaki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinated by this topic. Reading this book for me has been such a beautiful experience because of the depth cultural expressions and and the diversity of world views of the indigenous communities that we are fortunate to share our world with (but haven't, unfortunately, properly respected).

I'm extremely saddened, at the same time, by the examples of what has been done in the name of "development" and "modernization" to deprive indigenous peoples of their ways of life. I feel that it is a r
Holly Wiltison
Aug 01, 2015 Holly Wiltison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Light at the Edge of the World is written by anthropologist and ethnobiologist Wade Davis. It is a beautifully written reflection on the importance of indigenous cultures in our world and the dangers of extinctions these cultures face. One language vanishes every 2 weeks when it's last speaker dies. I can't imagine being the last of my tribe, unable to communicate and share knowledge. When cultures die we lose knowledge as a whole. They take their understandings of scientifica ...more
Feb 23, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book to get through in 2 days. Wade Davis is an ethnobotonist. I had never heard that term before. He puts it that the ethnosphere is like the ecosphere, but with human culture.

As people argue successfully for the preservation of endangered animals and plants, Davis also argues for the preservation of endangered cultures. Or rather, the lessening of overwhelming force against them so that they be allowed to adapt or assimilate as desired.

He points out the vast scope of human i
Jun 23, 2009 Tam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Wade Davis. This book was particularly compelling because it exposes the cultural conditions of places around the world that are virtually unknown because the turmoil is often political. Tibet is a good example, because we're so bombarded by the China is the evil empire and the Dalai Lama is all that is good in the world and it turns out that the Dalai Lama was the religious and political leader of Tibet not through meritocracy or any kind of mystically event but through lineage and birth ...more
Erica Scott
This was my first introduction to Wade Davis, the well-known anthropologist most famous for studying tryptamines in the Amazon with Terence McKenna and zombies in Haiti. I was a little disappointed to find that it was more of a memoir than anything else, and while it whet my appetite to read more of his work, this particular book didn't hold a lot of interest. Reading it felt like listening to a greatest hits cd - I sat there thinking, "You know, this stuff is neat, but I've heard it all before. ...more
Andrea Paterson
I've been a fan of Wade Davis for a long time, and this book is a beautiful over-view of his work and perspectives. Fairly succinct essays are accompanied by photography and the whole package has made me want to do a lot of deeper reading into the cultures and ways of living touched on here. If you've ever thought that the loss of the world's languages is no big deal or that it doesn't matter if indigenous cultures are subsumed into our technologically driven "modern" world, then you need to rea ...more
Carolyn Gerk
An intriguing reflection on the unknown and largely unexplored cultures of the world, the myths and legends that weave throughout them, and the impact that technology and political force has upon the intricate webs of culture and knowledge. Davis shares some insights into the losses suffered by some of these cultures as they face the advancement of time and civilization. Written with the delicacy of a poet, Light at the Edge of the World is lovely and lyrical.
I was particularly fascinated by th
Aug 14, 2009 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
what I learned from this book...that the world is full of many different cultures and ethnicity, that our "white-man, christian, know-it-all" attitudes will be our destruction...that unless we learn to respect others fully, their language, customs, their right to live as they choose and to practice their own versions of religion, the loss will be ours...I found this book to be extremely moving, well-thought out and balanced. The author is an ethnobotanist and anthropologist as well as a photogra ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Agnese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, essay
After an unconvincing start, a bit slow and sometimes emphatic, this book becomes very engaging. Wade Davis tells about the diversity of humanity, its multiple cultures with their values, traditions and original interpretations of reality all striving to imagine a meaning for life. A variety of visions that seriously risks to disappear, overcome by the western culture, predominant because strong of its technical achievements too often greedily employed for materialistic purposes. Diversity, the ...more
Mar 17, 2008 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was amazing. I stayed up almost all night reading it.
It looks at many cultures that are on the brink of extinction. There
is so much depth to this book even though it looks only briefly at
these various peoples. I myself an extremely interested in nomadic cultures and the specific skill sets they have acquired to live in what seems like hostel environments to me. The book doesn't dwell on the idea that technology and our modern system is wrong. It just argues that people of this planet
It was hard for me to get into this book. Wade Davis lyrical style certainly appeals to many people but generally in my crazy life I only have time to read a few pages here or there. Instead Wade Davis requires time and calm. Once I decided to sit down with the book on a lazy weekend I began to enjoy it. I was able finally settle into the rhythm of his work. This book is one of those that requires time to digest the wonders and the world. Once I did sit down with the book it unfolded a incredibl ...more
Rz Mantarui
Apr 12, 2014 Rz Mantarui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel-adventure
lovingly written with a searing intensity, this book made me feel extremely sad and utterly alive at the same time, glad and exhilarated to be able to share the world with such strange cultures. any good book is supposed to broaden your horizons. this one did, stupendously. bonus? from the mind and heart and words not of a fiction writer, but of a real life "resident explorer of the National Geographic Society".

everything I always dreamed of being as a child, and more. it makes me see religion
Aug 06, 2014 D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-reads
OK, this one was not exactly the light summer read I was going to start with, but it has been on my list for a long time. It is a journey worth taking. Davis presents a variety of cultures across the globe and he challenges the reader to think about the many ways of being human. It's an accessible read, flowing well between anecdotes on each culture, and full of interesting facts (e.g. coca leaves had more calcium than any other plant and are a treatment for altitude sickness). A reminder to lis ...more
Avel Rudenko
Oct 08, 2011 Avel Rudenko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is well-written for the novice or uninitiated folk in the field of anthropology, yet anyone can learn from its contents and greatly expanded upon anecdotes. Davis writes very well. I would recommend this book for those wishing to learn about disappearing cultures and languages. Sadly, in merely just 1 generation, over half of our existing language may disappear off the face of this planet! So few modernists understand the depth and complexion of traditional knowledge. Wade Davis is such ...more
Liza Passanisi
one language vanishes every 2 weeks on this earth, when the last speaker dies.

that blows my mind on so many levels... the number of *existing* languages, the cultures that die with them, what it must be like to be the last of your kind...

there are some amazing people out there... tribes who can identify plants from 50 paces, whereas most scientists need a lab. the reason? this tribe can see more shades of green than anyone else... stuff like this just knocks my thinker about!

can't wait!

Gail Owen
I was intrigued and challenged by this book, but there were many times in his presentations that it seemed liked he made his points with sweeping generalizations. Conversely, at other times, it seemed as if he were focusing on minutiae of a culture to further his own viewpoint rather than accurately portray the it to the reader. That being said, the photography was amazing and I was prompted to evaluate my own understanding of the cultures around us that are quickly fading in the interest of "pr ...more
Jun 11, 2011 Jeanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It was enlightening & interesting. Wade Davis is an ethnologist and anthropologist who has traveled to parts of the world few people have ever been. He studies the culture of native peoples who are endangered by the encroachment of modern civilization--in Kenya, Northern Canada, Haiti, Indonesia, Tibet, Borneo & the Amazon. Each isolated people had their own language & ways of doing things to survive. It is depressing to see so many cultures destroyed by others coming in & taking ...more
Dec 22, 2008 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A colleague at work loaned me this book. Ethnobotanist Wade Davis presents studies of several traditional cultures and the dangers they face. Some very interesting facts tucked in here. For example there are more than 2000 (!) spoken languages in New Guinea alone, but with 500 spoken by less than 500 people. Around the globe it's estimated that about every two weeks a language is lost, often before it has even been studied in detail. The book features beautiful photography by the author, an Expl ...more
Jul 11, 2007 Ganesh marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
My fingers are crossed. I hope my library has this book or another book by Wade Davis. I watched his powerful talk about the importance of preserving indigenous cultures. I had never given much thought to this issue before I watched him speak.

He is incredibly articulate, and he tells these unbelievable true stories. I was completely blown away.

Here's his talk:

Mar 04, 2008 Dylan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and critical look at the rapidly disappearing value of indigenous knowledges and languages, from Peru to Greenland to the Outback. The final third of the book, though still interesting, seems to lose focus, moving into a political history of Tibet and a hopeful assessment of Tibet's future. Despite this, Davis is a compelling storyteller with stories that people need to hear, and the first two-thirds of the book are a wonderful accomplishment of passion, love, and hard work.
Ole Bobby
Feb 23, 2015 Ole Bobby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot about the intrinsic value of culture from this book. It also made me think differently about the world we live in.

Wade Davis' thoughts on his travels and research is a weird mixture of anthropology, argumentation, science and a very tiny amount of mysticism. The language, though academic, is thoroughly eloquent and enjoyable.

On a sidenote: If you have ever wanted to read an anecdote about an Inuit making a knife from his own frozen waste, this is the book for you.
Dec 06, 2012 Cherie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Venessa, Amelia, Wanda, Renee
Shelves: non-fiction, art, activism
A- Really beautiful wonderful book - an anthropological study with photo, reflecting on cultures. (The subtitle is "A Journey through the realm of vanishing cultures.") Sad…like "our children go to these new schools and they learn how to say "give me" not "i give"") and abt how big business and evil govt drive out indigenous people from their lands. Beautiful photos, plus Wade Davis has a great story.
Ivan Taylor
Feb 19, 2014 Ivan Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wide range of stories about ancient cultures. I think that I understand how cultures should be allowed to modernize at their own speed. They can adapt if given time. Not all cultures are pretty but this book gives me more respect for ancient cultures and how they can thrive in the modern world.
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Edmund 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 an
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