Wade Davis

Anthropologist | Explorer

Wade Davis’s presentations—illustrated by his exquisite photographs—are a wild and moving celebration of the wonder of humanity and the diversity of the human spirit, as expressed through the myriad of cultures he has encountered. A former Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, and named by them as one of the “Explorers for the Millennium,” Davis’s work as an anthropologist and botanical explorer has taken him from the forests of the Amazon to the mountains of Tibet, from the high Arctic to the deserts of Africa.

Davis is the author of 23 books including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence, which won the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize (now the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction). Davis has written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Outside, Harpers, Fortune, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other international publications.

Davis’s many film credits include writing and producing Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series. His most recent film project, El Sendero de la Anaconda, is set in the Northwest Amazon and is available on Netflix. As a photographer Davis has curated several major exhibits including The Lost Amazon at the Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute, and his own work has been widely exhibited and appeared in dozens of magazines and books. A book of his photos, Wade Davis: Photographs, was published in 2018 by National Geographic.

Davis has spoken at more than 200 universities and captivated corporate clients such as Microsoft, Shell, Fidelity, Bayer, Bristol-Myers, Hallmark, Bank of Nova Scotia, MacKenzie Financials, and many others. His many TED talks have been seen by millions of viewers. In 2009, he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures, Canada’s most prestigious public intellectual forum.

After serving as an Explorer-in-Residence for 15 years at the National Geographic Society, Davis remains a member of the NG Explorers Council, and is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. He holds numerous awards, is a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2018 was made an Honorary Citizen of Colombia.


The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in a Modern World

Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? Wade Davis leads us on a thrilling journey to celebrate the wisdom of the world’s indigenous cultures. In Polynesia we set sail with navigators whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ. In the Amazon we meet the descendants of a true Lost Civilization, the Peoples of the Anaconda. In the Andes we discover that the Earth really is alive, while in the far reaches of Australia we experience Dreamtime, the all-embracing philosophy of the first humans to walk out of Africa. We then travel to Nepal, where we encounter a wisdom hero, a Bodhisattva, who emerges from forty-five years of Buddhist retreat and solitude. And finally we settle in Borneo, where the last rainforest nomads struggle to survive.

Understanding the lessons of this journey will be our mission for the next century. Of the world’s 7000 languages, fully half may disappear within our lifetimes.  At risk is a vast archive of knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination that is the human legacy. Rediscovering a new appreciation for the diversity of the human spirit, as expressed by culture, is among the central challenges of our time.

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war. Of the twenty-six British climbers who, on three expeditions (1921-24), walked 400 miles off the map to find and assault the highest mountain on Earth, twenty had seen the worst of the fighting. Six had been severely wounded, two others nearly killed by disease at the Front, one hospitalized twice with shell shock. Four as army surgeons dealt for the duration with the agonies of the dying. Two lost brothers, killed in action. All had endured the slaughter, the coughing of the guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead.

In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: ‘The price of life is death.’ Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation, death was but ‘a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day.’ As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much of it that it had no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive. For all of them Everest had become an exalted radiance, a sentinel in the sky, a symbol of hope in a world gone mad.

The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass

In a rugged knot of mountains in northern British Columbia lies a spectacular valley known to the First Nations as the Sacred Headwaters.  There, three of Canada’s most important salmon rivers- the Stikine, Skeena and Nass- are born in remarkably close proximity. Now against the wishes of all First Nations, the British Columbia government has opened the Sacred Headwaters to industrial development. Fortune Minerals proposes a coal operation that would level mountains. Imperial Metals is moving ahead with an open pit copper and gold mine on Todagin Mountain, home to the largest population of Stone sheep in the world; tailings from the Red Chris mine will bury Black lake and leach into the headwaters of the Iskut River, the main tributary of the Stikine. For years Royal Dutch Shell sought to extract coal bed methane gas across a tenure of close to a million acres, which would have implied a network of roads and pipelines and thousands of wells places across the entire valley of the Sacred Headwaters.

For ten years Tahltan men women and children, along with local non native trappers, guides, and writers have stood up for the land, and in a remarkable grassroots victory in 2012, Shell Canada withdrew from the valley. The struggle continues, and will continue until the entire Sacred Headwaters is protected. The resounding message of the people is that no amount of gold, copper or coal can compensate for the sacrifice of a place that could be the Sacred Headwaters of all North Americans and indeed all peoples of the world.