Wade Davis, born and raised in West Vancouver, won the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction on Monday for Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, a study of British mountaineer George Mallory’s fatal 1924 climbing expedition on Mt. Everest.
Davis, an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., specializes in anthropology and ethnobotany. He has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.
His analysis of Haitian Vodou culture and the process of making zombies, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), became an international bestseller and was made into a Hollywood horror movie by director Wes Craven.
Some of Davis’ other books include Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon (2008) and One River (1996), which was nominated for the 1997 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction.
The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction is the richest non-fiction prize in the UK, worth £20,000 ($32,000) to the winner. The prestigious award is open to authors of all non-fiction books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. The prize money comes from an anonymous sponsor.
The six titles on this year’s shortlist were:
— Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum, by Katherine Boo (Portobello Books)
— Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, by Wade Davis (The Bodley Head)
— The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
— The Better Angels of our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity, by Steven Pinker (Allen Lane)
— The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, by Paul Preston (HarperPress)
— Strindberg: A Life, by Sue Prideaux (Yale University Press)
David Willetts, a British Conservative lawmaker who chaired the judging panel, said the book is “an exciting story of human endeavour imbued with deep historical significance.”
Into the Silence has also been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.
— John Goodman