Anthropologist Wade Davis Discusses His Life and Work


"… I am an axe; And my son a handle, soon; To be shaping again, model; And tool, craft of culture; How we go on."

- Gary Snyder, Axe Handles (1983)

"… wisdom comes to those who understand the student is more important than the teacher in the lineage of knowledge."

- Wade Davis, New Books Network (2021)

Of the three major influences on Wade Davis’ life and work one of the most important is the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder, and in this interview the professor shares how foundational that connection remains. This is just one highlight of many he shares about his thinking and writing as Wade indulges my interest in his ‘craft of culture’ on his path to becoming a renowned storyteller.

This professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, former Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society, and award-winning author, Davis shares the interesting back stories of his best-selling first book, The Serpent and The Rainbow, about his research into Haitian ‘zombie poison’, how his hypothesis was publically challenged, and how the Hollywood movie version was just the kind of cultural distortion he was trying to overcome with his book.

In the course of talking about this first book which helped launch his writing career he shares thoughts about academic writing more generally and in particular how his PhD thesis, Passage of Darkness, is really a sterile version of the richer and more textured narrative of the first book even though the latter is preferred by academics. For that matter, Wade has something to say about academic objectivity before we move on to talk about his influential One River, his CBC lectures-inspired The Wayfinders, and his award-winning Into The Silence. He also speaks at length about the influence of his Harvard mentors – the British anthropologist David May Ray Lewis, and the botanist and plant explorer Richard Evan Schultes, and how he and the late botanical explorer Tim Plowman made up the ‘coca project’ and the significance of ‘the divine leaf of immortality’.

Keith Krueger teaching business and academic communication in the SILC Business School at Shanghai University - can be reached at:

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