This week’s review was incredibly difficult to write, or even just to arrange my thoughts into text, so apologies if it’s a really long winded one! Seeing David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet on NetGalley, the sheer prevalence of his notoriety and the subject matter of the book immediately intrigued me and it became one of those titles that I just had to read.
It’s very rare that I choose to publicly post about current affairs or political issues, but conservationism, sustainability and the preservation of our planet is a matter which is really close to my heart. I can’t seem to watch Blue Planet or wildlife programmes about pangolins etc. without getting incredibly upset at how some people abuse our incredibly amazing natural world. Sadly, like other issues facing the world, I feel that it is also a matter which different people of different generations from different nations will have contrasting and contradicting views about. We are not yet a united force when it comes to discussing the future of our planet.
First off, I feel the need to separate this review into two parts – one, to review a non-fiction book as I would review any other non-fiction book; then secondly, to review this book based on the worldwide renown of its author, the message he conveys and my own personal response to it. It seemed a little unfair or confusing to intertwine the two. A big thank you to Ebury Publishing, NetGalley and Sir David Attenborough for providing me with a complimentary e-book in exchange for this honest review.
Book: A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement and Vision For The Future by David Attenborough
Publication Date: October 1st 2020
Publisher: Ebury Publishing
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
In this scientifically informed account of the changes occurring in the world over the last century, award-winning broadcaster and natural historian shares a lifetime of wisdom and a hopeful vision for the future.
See the world. Then make it better.
I am 93. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.
As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day — the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity.
I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake — and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right.
We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited.
All we need is the will to do so.
As a non-fiction book, A Life on our Planet is incredibly well structured. Broken down into separate parts, the author lays out his experience of living and travelling around the globe, then he explains the current problems facing our planet and finally, he lays out the steps we could take to go about fixing things for future generations. The cyclical nature of A Life On Our Planet allows the reader to absorb the key messages being explained whilst also posing an outlook of hope for readers in what is a relatively large and heavy concept to contemplate.
The book immediately offers the reader a narrative and thinking point centring around Pripyat (Chernobyl). In Part 1, the author then proceeds to summarise his years of experience in his field, intertwined with a witness statement about what he has observed through the decades of his life. With facts regarding population change, carbon presence in the atmosphere and the percentage of biodiversity left on the planet, these chapters easily highlight to the reader the pace of change which has happened during the author’s time spent navigating the globe as a broadcaster. They offer a context and background which I found particularly useful given my own fairly limited life experiences and knowledge of certain events that took place in different continents or happened before I was born.
In Part 2, the author makes the reader aware of the multitude of problems currently facing our planet. This is backed up with scientific research and theories as to how these issues came about, as well as what may happen if we continue to ignore them and go about living our lives at the pace and rate which we are now accustomed. A helpful, comprehensive glossary at the end of the book makes any technical language easily accessible and the gentle, explanatory writing style of the author succeeds in its aim to be informative without being too advanced or alternatively, patronising. Broken down into thematic chapters, the individual elements of the narrative become understandable and it was clear to see how each layer of the author’s argument reinforces and builds upon that which came before it.
Finally, in Part 3 the author references countries across all continents of the globe which are starting to take action to try and fix the aforementioned problems. This knowledge from different nations reinforces how well-researched, informed and connected he is in this particular field. He lays out a roadmap for how together, as a whole planet, we can take steps to try and prevent a future mass extinction on Earth. A closing reference to Pripyat again in the Conclusion brings the author’s narrative full-circle, nicely rounding off his argument and in a sense, proving exactly the witness statement which he is championing.
As far as non-fiction books go, I found A Life On Our Planet to be incredibly well-written, well-researched and with a voice which enables me to get on-board and believe the narrative the author is laying out. It is informative, without being excessively scientific and for me, struck the right balance between facts and personal opinion. His message is clear and it is a vital one which needs to be read.
I feel incredibly lucky to have seen Sir David Attenborough in person as part of an interview at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. To me, he has one of the most iconic voices (quite literally!) and influential expertise when it comes to discussing our natural world.
There is no doubt that his early connections with the BBC have taken him on a life adventure that most of us can only ever dream of undertaking and have opened doors to places, peoples and sights not available to the rest of us. He himself admits that he would not be where he is today without the vast range of researchers and scientists behind him who do all of the crucial, technical aspects of the work; it is this humble approach and almost grandfatherly nature which see him adored by millions.
In A Life On Our Planet, it feels like David Attenborough is using his lifetime of privilege, experience and notoriety to shine a light on a crucial matter that seeks to affect the very core of all life on Earth.
Changes happening on a planetary level (sea temperatures warming, carbon in the atmosphere rising, ice-levels melting) are so abstract to measure and witness through day-to-day living. It is only now that the pace and rate of changes happening on our planet is being noticed and realised. It is only now that we can measure the impact of humanity’s presence on Earth through the last few centuries and predict an accurate timeline for the continuing rate of change in the future. That being said, the references to Chernobyl and Attenborough’s plee that we rewild the world brought one very recent event to the forefront of my mind.
The current global pandemic saw the world come to a pause and in that standstill of humanity, nature and the wild flourished. Canals in Venice ran so clear that fish and swans could be seen swimming in them (and even dolphins and an octopus!); skies were so blue and clear now that air quality had improved with the fall of emissions from roads and airways; seismologists recorded lower vibrations thought to be due to the lack of people moving around – it took a global pandemic to show us that nature and planet earth would thrive just as well without us!
Regardless of political agendas or personal beliefs, it is becoming evidently clear that our time for positive change is running out and it feels that it takes a guy like David Attenborough to write this book, make this plea and cry out how very close we are to the tipping point before people start to take notice.
This book needs to be read.
It is not long. It is not arduous. It is not confusing or taxing. What worries me most is that the place where change is needed the most, as Attenborough details, is the top tier of our societies – those people in power writing manifestoes, running governments, heading global corporations need to be held accountable and spearhead the campaign for change in order for the rest of us to be able to assist facilitating the change that is so desperately needed.
All creatures great and small live on this planet together and now we, as the supposed intelligent species that we are, need to work together to ‘rewild the world’ and make sure that it survives to see a new century and a new era.
I have to climb down off my soapbox now before this rant goes on forever and hits 1500 words but I can’t urge you enough to read this book! Even just a part of it – its message is so incredibly vital to the future of our planet and it will take an effort by every single one of us to make it happen.
Feel free to drop me a comment or ask me any questions about what else is in the book. This is a deep, yet important issue and I’m always happy to chat about it!