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In 1982, Harvard-trained ethnobotanist Wade Davis traveled into the Haitian countryside to research reports of zombies – the infamous living dead of Haitian folklore. A report by a team of physicians of a verifiable case of zombification led him to try to obtain the poison associated with the process and examine it for potential medical use.
Interdisciplinary in nature, this study reveals a network of power relations reaching all levels of Haitian political life. It sheds light on recent Haitian political history, including the meteoric rise under Duvalier of the Tonton Macoute. By explaining zombification as a rational process within the context of traditional Vodoun society, Davis demystifies one of the most exploited of folk beliefs, one that has been used to denigrate an entire people and their religion.
Wade Davis has studied the zombie phenomenon extensively. He is author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, a chronicle of his experiences in Haiti while trying to locate the zombie poison.
"Davis manages to demystify the concepts 'voodoo' and 'zombie' and to make the people involved with these cultural practices seem a little more human, a little less bizarre and incomprehensible."
– New York Times Book Review
"[A] fascinating book [...] The author has gone to great lengths to show that zombification is a highly complex and carefully executed social process."
– American Scientist
"A remarkable journey into the natural and supernatural world of the zombie."
"Moves far beyond formula or sensationalism and directly confronts the 'why' of the zombie phenomenon"
– Western Folklore
"Davis offers the only firsthand account of the structure and functions of clandestine Bizango societies [...] Evidence is also presented to justify the claim that Bizango societies may be a key to understanding recent Haitian political history."