PERSONAL: Male. Education: Attended University of Canterbury; Stanford University, Ph.D.
ADDRESSES: Home—Switzerland. Agent—Moulton Agency, 441 Ulloa St., San Francisco, CA 94127.
The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor with Francis Huxley) Shamans through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Jeremy Narby has done extensive research and writing on the practices and beliefs of shamans: those people held to be mystical sages and healers by many cultures, including the indigenous peoples of South America. He became interested in the topic while visiting that continent's upper Amazon river region. He learned about the native people's use of plants in medicine, and was told the information about the plants' healing properties came from the plants' spirits, which revealed this to the shamans. Narby was skeptical, but while drinking a plant brew during a shamanic ceremony, he had a vision of twin serpents, which to him symbolized DNA. This led to his first book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, in which he maintains that DNA has a mind of its own. Writing as a "very thoughtful, curious outsider," related John Petersen in Whole Earth, Narby makes "a plausible argument that DNA is alive and intelligent and that humans are but specially designed vehicles for its/their proliferation." A Publishers Weekly reviewer found Narby's conclusions unconvincing, but did allow that the author "provides an intriguing detective story, wondrous visions and a wealth of fascinating information."
Narby followed this work by editing, with Francis Huxley, Shamans through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge. This book collects more than sixty previously published pieces on shamanism, some heretofore unavailable in English, from diverse sources ranging from the writings of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century missionaries to the works of modern-day psychologists and anthropologists, including such famous names as Claude Levi-Strauss and Franz Boas. It also includes introductory commentaries on the preconceived ideas each writer brought to his or her discussion of shamanism. Several critics deemed the book a valuable addition to scholarship. It provides "an eye-opening experience," commented Julia Glynn in Booklist, while Kliatt reviewer Edna Boardman remarked that it "will fill a gap in many collections" thanks to the editors' "considerable resourcefulness." A Publishers Weekly contributor called it an "excellent volume," concluding, "This first sweeping study of shamanism is sure to become a classic."
In Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge Narby begins with the belief, derived from his experiences with shamans, that plants and animals have a degree of human-like intelligence, and he surveys scientists who have done research on the intellectual capabilities of non-human life. The scientists provide examples of problem-solving, communication, and acute perceptiveness exhibited by various creatures, including birds, butterflies, and bacteria. "None of these accounts is exactly new to readers of Science or Nature, but they're nicely summarized here, along with descriptions of nervous systems and extensive endnotes," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that some scientists may not like Narby's fusion of mysticism with scientific inquiry, but said the author's "well-researched and engagingly presented account of the 'braininess' of even literally brainless creatures raises fascinating questions about the boundaries between man and nature."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2001, Julia Glynn, review of Shamans through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge, p. 1513.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, p. 64.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Edna Boardman, review of Shamans through Time, p. 37.
Library Journal, April 15, 2001, John Burch, review of Shamans through Time, p. 116.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, review of The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, p. 245; March 26, 2001, review of Shamans through Time, p. 82; January 24, 2005, review of Intelligence in Nature, p. 229.
Whole Earth, spring, 2002, John Petersen, review of The Cosmic Serpent, p. 84.