Friday, April 11, 2014

Non-Fiction Review: New Life Stories

New Life Stories is the second installment of Sir David's look back at the wildlife that has captured his imagination and enthusiasm over his distinguished career. It is a fascinating trip around the world in search of extraordinary plants, animals, and people, in the company of this wonderful communicator. Sir David shares his thoughts on a whole range of topics, from animals like the Kiwi, the Cuckoo, and the Chameleon, to flora like Charnia and the canopy, and even other famous British naturalists, like the evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace.
New Life Stories
Attenborough, David (2011). [Genre: Natural History]
Source: audiobook from local library
New Life Stories is one of those rare cases of an audiobook original - a BBC series which for each episode David Attenborough was given 5-15 minutes to talk about whatever he felt like. The series was popular enough to be transcribed into hardcover, with accompanying doodles from the man himself. New Life Stories is the second volume of the series, which I added to the to-read pile several years ago after reading the first volume. As seems to be more-and-more-often the case these days, I ended up getting to it in a different format than I orginally intended after spotting the original audiobook in my local library. 
To be honest, whoever decided that letting David Attenborough waffle about whatever he feels like was a good idea is a genius. Attenborough has had a fascinating career, that has spanned a rapidly changing landscape both in terms of the earth itself and the ethical practices of wildlife film making. His genuine interest in the natural world and particularly its more odd intricacies shines through. On top of that, he has a lovely subtle sense of humour which is easy to miss but delightful when caught. One of my favourite anecdotes in New Life Stories is Attenborough being asked by a charity fundraiser hostess 'what delightful things he had been filming today.' His response, that he had been filming pterosaurs off the Dorset coast (models for a Walking With Dinosaurs type documentary), met with a very serious 'Oh, aren't they lovely at this time of year.'

The stories in the volume bounce around a lot, with no thread to tie them together other than Attenborough himself. I found this didn't ultimately detract from the overall theme, as each story is a delightfully compact whole. Although in most cases they are primarily informative, Attenborough ensures each has a beginning, middle and end. Personally I found the endings delightful - Attenborough has a knack for tying up each short story in just the right way, whether it be with a joke, a statement on his career/life (accomplishments/regrets) or a serious message about conservation. 
Overall I'd recommend New Life Stories to almost anyone who has a passing interest in the natural world. Bite sized chunks make it an easy read and it delivers some fascinating factoids about our world in combination with aspects of memoir in a very entertaining and 'comfort food' type way. 4/5 stars.
New Life Stories is an alternate for my 2014 TBR pile Challenge list 

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