Monday, 9 October 2017

'The Best Books' - David Attenborough: Life on Air

Just a short post here. Like many people who have an urge to explore the natural world and seek out adventure, books have been a source of encouragement, inspiration and itchy feet since I was a child - (Television documentaries too, but to a lesser extent). I thought I might on occasion share examples of books which have really stood out to me in this field. What better place to start than with Sir David Attenborough's memoirs - Life on Air.

The man himself needs no introduction - he is a legend (and I don't apply that word as readily as most) in the world of natural history film making and global environmental conservation.

In a career spanning more than 60 years of conservation, exploration, education and research he has clocked up experiences it is unlikely anyone else will now be able to have in quite the same way and certainly not in the same quantity.

Not many people still working today can claim that in the line of their work they have encountered tribes never before contacted by the outside world; regions never before traversed by Europeans; filmed, photographed, recorded or documented species of animals, facets of primitive and ancient culture and relics of anthropological development never before seen by outsiders, never mind recorded, or documented. 

His world travel started in the days when multi-day boat journeys, propeller driven planes and locals with dug-out canoes were the norm. In these days of long-haul jets and global communications, where an appropriately large bank balance will get you pretty well anywhere pretty fast, it is perhaps difficult to imagine quite what these days were like. Maybe, just maybe, this was the golden age of travel - when everywhere was just about accessible, but only to those who really put in the effort. When the act of travel itself, at least outside of Western developed nations, was an adventure in and of itself. He travelled, by necessity, not because it looked good for television, by boat up rarely navigated rivers, on foot through unexplored tracts of rain forest, on horseback through wetlands in South America where vehicular transport was untenable - the list goes on and on. 

Nor was he merely a generic presenter reading someone else's script as seems to be the case so often nowadays. In fact he started his television career as a producer and director without appearing in the finished product. He studied Zoology and Paleantology at Cambridge, and at one point started to study part-time (alongside his work with the BBC) for a degree in Anthropology (this was interrupted by an administrative shake up which saw him promoted within the BBC). His main roles in front of the camera, for which he became a household name, were to come later and, its not an exaggeration to say, were to change the way natural history films were made.

He has been widely recognised for this work with, among other accolades, a Knighthood, too many honourary degrees to count and other industry awards in television, education and conservation, not to mention myriad newly discovered species named after him.   

However, he concludes his account with a description of why he continued, and indeed still continues, to produce these films and have these adventures:

"...I know of no pleasure deeper than that which comes from 
contemplating the natural world and trying to understand it."

I couldn't agree more and heartily recommend you live some adventures, and explore the natural world through the eyes of Sir Attenborough by reading 'Life on Air'.


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