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The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (CBC Massey Lecture)

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,755 ratings  ·  312 reviews
Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? In The Wayfinders, renowned anthropologist, winner of the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis leads us on a thrilling journey to celebrate the wisdom of the world's indigenous cultures. In Polynesia we set sail with nav ...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by House of Anansi Press
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Brooke There is a chapter in here that realtes to the people of the pacific islands. Keep in mind it's focus is on the culture of those people and WHY they d…moreThere is a chapter in here that realtes to the people of the pacific islands. Keep in mind it's focus is on the culture of those people and WHY they do what they do and WHY x, y, z is important to their culture. So less about say how to navigate by starts and more about the cultural backgroun. Personally I think this particular book (as I feel about a few of wade davis' works) is required reading for all humans who care about the future of our plant - so I'm biased :-)(less)

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Start your review of The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (CBC Massey Lecture)
The Wayfinders is a passionate exploration of several modern-day traditional cultures - ancient people practicing ways of life which have barely changed over thousands of years, often passed down without written language and rich in social, spiritual and environmental significance.

The book details epic pilgrimages and exceptional feats of human ingenuity rivaling the most advanced technological capabilities of modern times and far exceeding any religious feats of the "developed" world. Perhaps
Nov 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: massey-lectures
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
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Katlyn Twidle
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Easily the best book I've read in awhile, if not ever. I picked it up with no expectations and minimal interest and was immediately sucked into his story telling. He takes you on a journey through science, history, human genius, our natural relationship with the earth, the mistakes we've made and the conquences we are facing now and going forward. Having just finished the book, I feel as though I have a responsibility to the planet and a new respect for the diverse cultures in it. Wade is an exc ...more
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
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
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
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this little book up not expecting much, and was blown away by it. A times I couldn't put it down, at times I had to take a break from it because it was devastating. I never had a huge interest in history, but this is one of those books that awakens a need to learn more about something. I can say as well that as a non-believer it made me have a greater amount of empathy for religious culture.

I would say this book is really about how humanity has found meaning, understanding, and purpose
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Long, long ago, Teutonic storytellers told tales by the fire. Many of them mention a deity who was a wisdom seeker, singer, poet, and warrior. Odin had two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who daily flew out over the world, observed the events, and returned to report the news. The names of his birds meant “thought” and “memory.” Odin cherished these ravens. He knew that the loss of thought would be terrible, but that the loss of memory would be far worse. Thought is clever and useful, but memory is es ...more
Josh Pendergrass
An incredible survey of the diversity of the human species and a reminder that much of what we take for granted about human beings and society is actually a limited view from the blinders that our own culture places on us. Some amazing portraits of different traditional peoples, from the first inhabitants of Polynesia, master navigators who traversed vast expanses of ocean by reading the stars, clouds, and waves, to the shamans of an Amazon tribe who spend the first twenty years of their life in ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. Wade Davis explores multiple cultures each blowing me away, deepening my appreciation for different, lost, and at risk cultures. Gives you questions, answers, and hope and feels so tangible. Couldn't ask for anymore. A must read. ...more
Maria Martinico
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What does it mean to be human and alive? Davis has some pretty solid answers.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, rereadable
These compiled lectures make for one of the most eye-opening books I've ever read. Wade Davis's storytelling is both educating and absorbing. This book has had an impact on my worldview around progress and ethnographic erasure. ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Thomas Armstrong
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a good book to read alongside The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond. Both books affirm the value of indigenous cultures as repositories of wisdom and at the same time bewail their rapid disappearance in our time as a result of Western ''civilization'' (I use that term guardedly). This was a simpler book than Diamond's, coming as it did from a series of radio lectures made by an anthropologist, ethnobotanist, filmmaker, and photographer with extensive field experience in many remote ...more
Timothy H. Froese
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book captured my imagination in a way that lectures never have. As I read I frequently forced myself to only read a few pages in a sitting in order to allow time for the words to sink in, processing every morsel of information that Davis presented. I am not an ethno-botanist and a book like this would not ordinarily appeal to me, however, Davis presented his information in intriguing, bite sized pieces that allowed even a layman to follow along and appreciate his work.
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Deeply-felt, intimate, adventuring and evenhanded. A wellspring of resonant facts and lyrical minutae in a beautifully structured greater context.
Jeffrey E
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, wow. This book leaves a lot for you to think about. It did the unthinkable: making me want preserve both the environment and humanity.
Jon Rees
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I recommended Wade Davis' The Wayfinders to the whole staff at ICHK. It's a beautifully written and passionate account of "how ancient wisdom matters in the modern world." In Y8 English class at ICHK we have been looking at persuasive speeches by Greta Thunberg and studying resources around Overshoot Day-the date where we as a species use up all of Earth's resources which is sustainable for one year. Alarmingly, that date passed last weekend on August 22nd.

Within the past two centuries followin
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Every year my partner buys a book for my birthday (it was last Friday). Sometimes it’s fiction, which is in my comfort zone, sometimes it’s non-fiction, usually something on the popular academic side, which is totally outside my reading sphere. This year was the latter. I like a challenge so I dove in.

Styled as a series of lectures, anthropologist, Wade Davis explains how the modern world, with all it’s technological advancements, should use tribal civilizations as a reference point.

Wade Davis b
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Half this book is about how terrible colonization was. Like I haven’t spent my entire life listening to that already. Like somehow I’ve been living in a cave and didn’t already know this history inside and out. It gets old fast when really I want to be reading about these ancient cultures and wisdoms, not the culture that nearly destroyed them.

When the lecturing occasionally lets up, the other half of the book is really interesting. Though I’d heard a lot of this history before, the epic journey
Pat Rolston
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wade davis is a masterful story teller who focuses on incredibly interesting and highly relevant subjects. His book, "One River," about Richard Evans Schultes and his epic exploration as well as scientific documentation of the Amazon and it's flora and fauna is one of the best books I have ever read. The Wayfinders is another wonderfully authored work by Wade Davis and explores the ethnography of various civilizations and indigenous people throughout time. He focuses on the critical lessons they ...more
Bill S
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Message stands more than ever. Strong, compelling call to acknowledge the destruction of humanity’s diverse array of cultures, pushing back on notion of cultural progression on some Westernized spectrum, and how such destruction leads to extremities in how we treat each other and our environment.
“...culture is not trivial. It is not decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers we chant. It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allow
Syed Ali Hussain Bukhari
The Wayfinders by Wade Davis.
This is such a book that defines as well as explains cultures. It describes the importance of all of the cultures of the world but mostly covering American Continent in this regard.
It states all of the major specifications of the peoples representing any specific culture(discussed), their religious beliefs, their social habbits and customs, their life style and much more. The author also directs our attention to the dangers that the cultures, specific areas, people,
Ross Tierney
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
My main takeaway is that Wade Davis is buddies with at least one person in every indigenous tribe in the world. And I mean good buddies - like godfather to your children buddies. This brother has been around! His breadth of cultural familiarity is really staggering. When he rattles off the names of South Andean indigenous peoples or Sub-Saharan nomadic cultures, you know these are just the ones from the top of his head. Ultimately his is a lecture of hope, but the amount of destruction occurring ...more
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
During our Covid Level four lockdown here in New Zealand Wade Davis was interviewed by one of my favourite journalists. This came after writing an insanely perceptive article for Rolling Stone explaining that never in our lives had we experienced such a global phenomenon. Mostly due to the virus but also the impact of technology on the spread and the polarised political climate created by Trump in its wake. It looked at the prospect of real economic ruin and how America was being perceived by th ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was really just as I was hoping it to be.

Wade Davis describes a variety of cultures that he has visited over the years and shares how the importance of valuing the diversity of the human experience. He clarifies that it is not so much about any one culture doing it right, but that they all are representations of the human experience in place and that in itself is of value to respect. He goes further on why this diversity is needed with the fact that our predominant culture is taking p
Adam Clost
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Davis presents his research, observations and experiences through engaging storytelling, but I was amazed to read about the way in which some of these historic (or not so historic) cultures managed to survive and thrive. An eye-opening book about the multitudes of different ways we could live and experience the world if we would be open to them.
Nov 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: listened-to
3.5 stars
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 50book-2019
...all these people teach us that there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth. p 2

You might think of the social web of life as an "ethnosphere," a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imaginations since then dawn of consciousness. p2

A language, of course, is not merely a set of grammatical rules of a vocabulary. It is a flash of t
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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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