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Light at the Edge of the World

by Wade Davis

Wade Davis has never been a typical “science writer.” His books, including the international bestseller One River, have always been informed by Davis’s personal intensity and involvement (far exceeding that expected even of an anthropologist), and a dynamic tension between the scientific world and the spiritual. That tension, and Davis’s openness to the spiritual teachings of the indigenous peoples he has spent time with, has attracted a broad readership.

Readers will not be disappointed by Davis’s latest book, Light at the Edge of the World. Although the glossy, large format hardcover bears the hallmarks of a coffee-table book, its import far exceeds that classification.

At its most basic, Light is a memoir of Davis’s field-work, documenting 30 years of journeys in the scientific and spiritual realms. Davis revisits the subjects of previous books – the Voudoun of The Serpent and The Rainbow, the Amazon experiences of One River – mining them not only for their own insights but for their impact on his development as an explorer of the human experience.

At a deeper level, Davis chronicles the ongoing “ethnocide” he has witnessed in his travels, the disappearance of indigenous cultures and the resulting homogenization of the ethnosphere into a consumerist, materialist, technological monoculture. To further highlight this tragedy, Davis recounts the teachings of those indigenous peoples he has lived with, and the lessons of those cultures either on the verge of disappearing or vanished already. He ends on a note of hope, with an optimistic description of the creation of Nunavut as a positive step in indigenous self-determination, but one can’t help but mourn the loss of the Penan, the tragedy of Tibet, and the other cultures he describes.

Davis accompanies the text with a selection of his photographs, 84 images from the thousands he has taken over the years. They are uniformly stunning, worthy of presentation in their own right, but carefully chosen to support and mirror the accompanying text. Light at the Edge of the World is simultaneously a celebration of human diversity, a requiem for what we have already lost, and a warning.