Photo by dieguchi used under a Creative Commons license.
Wade Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow (Simon & Schuster, 1997).
As a graduate student and the protege of ethnobotanist Richard Schultes, Davis was sent to Haiti in 1982 to investigate reports of zombis, Haitians returned from the dead to a second life of slavery. Davis’s initial search focused on the plant and animal ingredients of the magic powders used in vodoun rituals, but he came to realize that the zombi phenomena could not be understood without a grasp of facets of Haitian culture not seen by outsiders. The pharmocology is fascinating, but so is Davis’s field work to uncover secret societies and his research to place zombis in the context of Haiti’s history.
Here is a biographical sketch of Davis. Here is a profile posted by National Geographic, where he is an explorer-in-residence. You can hire him as a motivational speaker. Google Books offers a preview. Songcatchers thought it was interesting if somewhat slow. Haitian author Dr. Reynold Ducasse is a hard-core skeptic of Davis’s work, to say the least; here is his book. Douglas Cruikshank (Whole Earth Review) appreciates the vivid portrait of Haitian spirituality. Mark Folse heard an echo of New Orleans. Here is the trailer from a 1987 movie adaptation, apparently based on the book only in the loosest manner and not a film with which Davis was at all happy. Neither are many who have watched it. And here are 5 scientific reasons the zombie apocalypse could happen.