If you've watched PLANET EARTH or any of the countless other documentaries written by and/or featuring the reassuring and altogether charming voice of David Attenborough, then you are familiar with the warmth and grace he brings to discussions of the natural world. In some ways, he sounds like the official Narrator of Nature (NoN)--as if Gaia herself conjured the man from the mystic soil of Albion, endowed him with everlasting youth, and gave him the mission of protecting and advocating for her. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration--he's not THAT old, just a spry 92. And as this newly edited and incredibly delightful memoir proves, he is every bit as charming on the printed page as he is on the screen.
For decades, Attenborough has played an outsized role in the very conception we citizens of earth have of our planet's fauna and flora. The very idea of sending camera crews and naturalists to the four corners of the world to witness the miracles of nature in situ originates with Attenborough and his earliest work with the BBC in the 1950s. Before then, as this wonderful book makes clear, TV nature shows consisted of a bunch of scientists in white lab coats, pinning poor animals down on stainless steel display tables and poking them to see what they would do. It seems like a no-brainer now to send cameras into the wild, but it took the convergence of technological developments (smaller cameras, mainly) and the humane sensibilities of the Zoo Quest team in mid-twentieth century for this revolutionary development to occur. And though the mission of the team was in fact to retrieve animals for the London Zoo, the legacy of those early forays is a commitment to leaving animals alone in their habitats so they can get along with their quotidian pursuits—and a sense that we human beings are privileged to be able to witness this at all. And more: that we humans have an obligation to fight the degradation of the planet and the miraculous variety of life it supports.
So, this book: it's funny, self-deprecating, full of wonder, and downright thrilling in its descriptions of the team's (often bumbling) efforts to find, document, and in some cases capture the animals they were sent to retrieve. It is a terrific book, full of adventure. And if you have ever read and enjoyed James Herriot's lovely books about being a large-animal vet or the zoologist Gerald Durrell's hilarious accounts of his life, then you will be thrilled and have your soul lifted by ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG NATURALIST. Here's hoping that Gaia's gift to humankind, David Attenborough, carries on doing his thing forever and ever!