Peter Knudtson is a Victoria-BC-based nature writer who has written on topics ranging from molecular genetics and natural history to anthropology, ecology, and ethics.
Born (1947) and educated in the US, he holds a master's degree in biology from California State University, where he carried out field studies on the behavior and ecology of seals. He has a B.A. in premedical zoology from the University of California and carried out graduate studies at the University of North Carolina and the Graduate School of Journalism-Berkeley.
After stints as a wildlife biologist and teacher in Alaska, Knudtson immigrated to Vancouver, BC in 1983. There, teaming up with renowned science broadcaster David Suzuki, he later researched and wrote two Canadian non-fiction best sellers. Genethics (1989)--a "recombinant" term he coined while living in Alaska--examines ethical issues arising from new recombinant-DNA technologies and is one of a handful of books that Harvard University Press has honored as one of its "Classics in Science and Philosophy." Wisdom of the Elders (1992) explores parallels between scientific and Native views on nature and appears regularly on reading lists for courses in Comparative Religion, Environmental Philosophy, and Native Studies around the world.
His other works include The Wintun Indians of California (1977), A Mirror to Nature (1991), Orca (1996), and The World of the Walrus (1998).
He has won numerous writing grants and awards over the years--most recently the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award (2006), a major national arts award for "outstanding achievement in literature"--based on his entire body of work.
SELECTED BOOK REVIEWS
WISDOM OF THE ELDERS (senior co-author, principal researcher and writer)
"Our technological civilization is speeding towards a violent collision with nature, and we are threatening the ability of the Earth--our home--to support life as we know it. Suzuki and Knudtson's extraordinary work powerfully reminds us that we are indeed one with the Earth. We are truly indebted to them for charting for us the course toward a healthy and sustaining relationship with our planet."
-Vice President Al Gore.
"This thought-provoking book delivers a message we can't hear often enough: that very different societies, living in very different environments and using very different philosophical approaches, have nevertheless evolved similar understandings of their fundamental ties to their natural environment."
-SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"Knudtson and Suzuki's book, WISDOM OF THE ELDERS, is a complementary volume to MILLENNIUM [anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis' companion text for the recent TV miniseries of the same name] . . . Their sensitive descriptions cause the reader to embrace metaphorically the ancient wisdom and sensibility of the so-called primitive cultures. Quotes of respected scientists who describe the sacred order in science are interposed with tribal understanding of the sacred order in nature--both acknowledge the wonder of creation."
-Australian peace activist and physician Dr. Helen Caldicott, SIDNEY MORNING-HERALD
"An eloquent and powerful collection."
-SAN DIEGO REVIEW
" . . . Truly poetic, touching and revealing."
"Knudtson and Suzuki have created a powerful and important book."
"WISDOM OF THE ELDERS is alternately poignant, joyful, angry and provocative. It feeds the need of many to know more about the age-old beliefs of Indians on this continent and their counterparts around the globe . . . The stories breathe understanding and emotion into issues."
"WISDOM OF THE ELDERS will be looked upon as a kind of bible for all those who cherish an alternative view on the world and who seek the support of "primitive" thinking . . . It is engaging and timely, well written and easily read."
-Swedish historian of religion Ake Hultkranz, Stockholm Institute of Comparative Religion.
GENETHICS (co-author, principal researcher and writer)
[In "Genethics"] "Metaphors animate the narrative, restoring through art some of the natural beauty of science." '[T] he tangle of finely spun duplicate DNA threads . . . tremble, twist, and turn as they begin to coil methodically . . . Chromosomes 'lie uncoiled and suspended, like an undersea forest of kelp, in the shallows of the nucleus.'"
-JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, Jan. 5, 1990.
"Genethics" stands out... what gives "Genethics" an edge over its many predecessors is the authors' refusal to take scientific claims at face value." Another reviewer called it "an excellent bridge between the science of genetics and public policy, between how we think about genes and how we think about persons, and a significant leap forward in making scientific concepts accessible to a wider audience."
- THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT (LONDON), December 15, 1989.
"The ethics of genetic engineering get, perhaps, the fullest airing they have had in a decade of accelerating knowledge . . ."
-CAMBRIDGE EVENING NEWS, May 7, 1990. (Cambridge, England)
"Painstakingly and impressively, they have explained basic genetics for non-scientists, in a fascinating and immediately comprehensible way.
-THE TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT (LONDON)
"Suzuki and Knudtson have performed a public service in writing Genethics for the lay public . . . Sophisticated concepts and details of experiments are presented in layman's language without sacrificing scientific principles."
-THE WASHINGTON POST, March 26, 1989
"Suzuki and Knudtson are masters of chronology . . . Genethics works because it makes readers think."
-ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, summer 1989.
" . . . A significant contribution to what should be the most important item on our national agenda."
-GLOBE AND MAIL (CANADA), June 16, 1988.
"Their discussion of the XYY controversy is the best presentation I have found."
-Sheldon Krimsky, a leading American authority on the history of genetic engineering and author of Genetic Alchemy: The Social History of the Recombinant DNA Controversy (MIT Press, 1982.).
ORCA: VISIONS OF THE KILLER WHALE (author)
"The power and mystery of the orca seem never to lose their appeal. This book is an appreciation of the orca's gifts to humankind, and Peter Knudtson's appraisal of that gift is among the best that I've seen."
-Victor B. Scheffer, retired Chairman of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission
"This magnificent book reveals the long relationship between humanity and whales, assembling our knowledge about them from many different perspectives. The fate of orcas will tell us whether our species can learn that we must share the earth with other species, not compete with them."
-David Suzuki, Canadian geneticist and science broadcaster.
"A fascinating and unique portrait of these majestic creatures. Knudtson takes us into both the symbolic and real world of the orca, vividly describing their origins, complex social structure, and remarkable adaptability to marine ecosystems around the world."
-WHALES ALIVE, journal of Cetacean Society International.
-"A reverent and scientific explication of the orca whale, combining both cultural and historical perspectives with the biological facts."
"An exquisite work."
-Trisha Lamb Feuererstein, THE WHALE WATCHING WEB.
A MIRROR TO NATURE (author)
"Knudtson has a keen eye for details . . . Not enough people write honest, humane biographies of scientists . . . and if Knudtson produced more, they would be welcome indeed."
"Knudtson comes to grip with this key proposition: [he] deplores the tendency of practicing scientists to pursue their interests without assuming any responsibility for--sometimes without even acknowledging the implications of their conclusions. The relevance of his central message is downright chilling."
-REGINA LEADER POST
DAVID SUZUKI TALKS ABOUT AIDS (co-author)
"I think this is one of the best books on AIDS that I have come across in the last five years."
-Dr. Chris Tsoukas, M.D., Director of AIDS Services, Montreal General Hospital, 1987.
Harvard University Press ("Genethics"):