Book Review: The Adventures of a Young Naturalist, by David Attenborough

Available in bookshops nationwide.

51xl7QiCeML._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_David Attenborough is a legend of our time, synonymous with sharing the wonders and delights of the natural world with us through numerous television series over decades. He is a man with fascinating stories to tell about his life and career and Zoo Quest Expeditions shares some of these adventures.

In the 1950’s, David Attenborough was 26, a television producer for the BBC with two year’s broadcasting experience and an unused zoology degree, anxious to make animal programmes.

His plan was simple. The BBC and the London Zoo should mount a joint animal-collecting expedition on which both he and a curator of reptiles from the London Zoo should go. David would direct film sequences showing the London Zoo curator searching for and finally capturing a creature of particular interest. The resulting television series should be called Zoo Quest.

Zoo Quest Expeditions is David’s diary account of the experiences they had on their animal-collecting expeditions into the wilderness of British Guiana (Guyana), Indonesia, and Paraguay in the 1950’s.

Part of the magic of this book is the realisation as to how special these far flung locations were in a time when there was limited access to the area, and few European faces. Exotic animals were abundant the jungles and wilderness, and sometimes living as pets in remote villages. David and his team come into contact with Caiman crocodiles, piranhas, sloths, exotic birds, giant spiders, vampire bats, capybara, tree porcupines, manatee, anteaters, and many, many more wonderful creatures.

There is also the realisation that David Attenborough was far more than just a television producer and presenter, he was a very hands-on naturalist, with a confidence and appreciation of the animals and wilderness environments. He waded in deep crocodile infested waters, crawled through jungles, climbed trees with giant snakes; the man had no fear. The tale of David wrestling with the monster python a foot wide and 12 feet long in the jungles of Java is an eye-opener.

David Attenborough acknowledges in the book’s introduction that nowadays zoos don’t send out animal collectors on quests to bring them back for the zoo collection. The methods were of the time, when men of science were still concerned with compiling a catalogue of all the species of animals alive today, rather than conservation and respect for the wildlife and environment. If you can be comfortable with this, you’ll be able to appreciate the stories of the beautiful and charismatic creatures and their first interactions with humans, rather than saddened by the fact they were often collected and brought back to zoos.

On the trip back from Guyana, most of the animals were brought back by sea, except a few nice spiders, scorpions and one or two snakes in sealed tins with tiny air holes that went on the plane with David. He also kept a Coatimundi kitten nestled inside his shirt, a delightful furry creature still on a milk diet, with bright brown eyes, a long ringed tail and a pointed inquisitive snout. When he became hungry for more, they fed him worms rustled up from the tulip gardens at the airport in Amsterdam.

Zoo Quest Expeditions is a snapshot of a time long past, and a truly fascinating account of the wonderful animals that live our planet Earth.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions
by David Attenborough
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781473665958

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions features in the 2017 Summer Reading Catalogue.

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Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_diary_of_a_booksellerYou don’t have to be a bookseller to enjoy Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller. It is a delightful, amusing daily diary that is just a pleasure to read. It is also a tale of the changing nature of bookseller in this digital age. Though his view of bookselling is sometimes rather cynical, it is cynicism touched with humour, especially in regard the oddities of customers and human beings in general.

Shaun bought the second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland sixteen years ago. He had grown up near Wigtown and, home from university for Christmas, he dropped into The Bookshop to see if they had a copy of Leo Walmsley’s Three Fevers. In the course of conversation, the owner suggested he might like to buy the bookshop. He responded that he did not have any money, which earned the response ‘you don’t need money – what do you think banks are for.’

The diary was written in 2014, and starts each day with a note on how many online orders he had received overnight and how many of the orders he managed to find in his bookshelves. The numbers don’t always match. At the end of each day’s diary entries, he lists the number of customers and the takings for the day, excluding online sales. In between these two notes are passages of amusement, whimsy and often delightful insights into human behavior.

Food features in the book in different ways. Wigtown is Scotland’s National Booktown and there are more than 20 bookshops in the attractive seaside village in Dumfries and Galloway. Each year there is a Booktown Festival which attracts thousands of visitors to buy books and attend many events spread around the village. One night, while attending a festival some years ago, an exhausted author started rummaging around in Shaun’s bookshop looking for food. Shaun, who lives upstairs with Captain the cat, managed to rummage up some simple fare. The idea caught on, now the shop feeds some 200 authors and presenters engaged in the festival. Another angle on food is Nicky, a irregular worker in the book shop who brings in food for Shaun that she has found in the skip at the back of the local supermarket…

Inspired by this as a second-hand bookseller myself, I’m keeping a diary.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The Diary of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
Profile Books
ISBN: 9781781258820

 

 

 

Book Review: Epic Drives of the World, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_epic_drives_of_the_worldI’ve long been a fan of Lonely Planet publications, especially since they have included New Zealand in their reviews of great places to see and visit.  This book is no exception.  Epic Drives of the World contains three drives in New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands, and the very first two page illustration is of a VW campervan parked overlooking a portion of the East Coast somewhere in our beautiful country.

Fifty drives are described in detail with photographs of the terrain traversed, covering all parts of the globe from Africa and the Middle East, through the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The drives are graded from Easy through to Epic.  And an added bonus is a feature which gives information about similar drives to the initial one being described.  For instance, even though only three major drives are featured here in New Zealand, the index in the back of the book has the information that there are eleven routes covered somewhere in the book describing drives in Central Otago, the Kaikoura coast, Southern scenic route, thermal hot spots and Waiheke Island to name a few.

An indication of the extensive research which has gone into the book is the description for the Pacific Coast Highway.  To quote: ‘New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture, coastal scenery and Art Deco design combine in this off-the-beaten track journey around the country’s Pacific Ocean coastline. Start at Whakatane, one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities, and the departure point for boat trips to Whakaari (White Island), a sulfurous active volcano off the coast.  Nearby Ohope is close to the protected wildlife refuge of Moutuhora (Whale Island). The remote region beyond Opotiki around NZ’s easternmost point is steeped in the traditional ways of the Ngāti Porou iwi (tribe), with local Marae (Māori meeting houses) displaying beautiful wooden carvings.’

Napier-Napier-s-art-deco-architectureAlongside this description (reproduced in part) is a full page colour photograph of Napier with some of the Art Deco buildings and its white sand beach.  This drive was in the ‘More Like This’ section which follows many of the harder, epic drives throughout the book.

The book is a visual feast, being A4 size with a hard cover, and containing many photos and colour illustrations.  Little maps are at the beginning of each main drive showing where they are in the country represented, and each drive has the starting location, the end point, the distance covered, how to get there and, in some cases, what to take, when to go, where to eat, and websites to connect to for further info.  It’s packed full of information about the countries visited, the wildlife to watch out for and some history or relevant information about the country.

Epic Drives of the World is a real cracker of a book which would delight all sorts of readers, from the die hard adventurer through to the stay at home imagineers.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Epic Drives of the World
by Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet Global
ISBN 9781786578648

Book Review: The Longevity List, by Prof Merlin Thomas

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_longevity_listWe are constantly being bombarded with “research” on what we should eat or what we shouldn’t eat – to the point that it’s gets totally confusing. Often, newer research will contradict so-called facts we formerly believed.

Is red wine good for us, how much chocolate should we eat and is white chocolate actually chocolate and what is the difference between dark and milk chocolate? Is coffee any better for us than tea and how many cups a day is “healthy”?

The sugar debate is even bigger. Is sugar good for us; should it be cut it out altogether and what is an acceptable level? And don’t get me started on carbs in our diet and what is GI and how much is healthy?

Life is confusing and stressful enough without these issues and then of course the stress is a factor we all have to deal with in our lives.  How long are we going to live and if we do all the so called “experts” tell us, are we going to live longer?

The Longevity List is a very interesting read but I felt slightly bogged down in statistics and details at times.  I did learn something though – white chocolate is made from cocoa butter so is I guess could be called chocolate.  Love the stuff.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Longevity List
by Professor Merlin Thomas
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781921966736

 

Book Review: Selfie, by Will Storr

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_selfieI am not being overly dramatic when I say that we are living in a time of increasing levels of mental illness and challenges to emotional health, actual and attempted suicides, unhappy and unfulfilled people, over whelming pressures to be someone that we may not be internally programmed to be. These have always been issues in our communities through the centuries, but in the last fifty years or so there these issues have jumped to the fore of the lives of many many people in our world. But why? And what can we do about it?

Will Storr’s Selfie takes a look at the very complex issue in two ways – how us humans have become so self-obsessed and, what exactly it is doing to us. Such a complicated subject cannot be easy to write about and the result is quite a complicated, wide ranging, energetic and fascinating exploration into what makes us, and our own individual self. On the flip side, this is a very long book, there is an enormous amount of very detailed information which at times is too much. Plus, for me, way too much space given to long-word-for-word conversations between the author and his interviewee. Some more vigorous editing would not have gone amiss. All of this does make for a book that you need to concentrate on while reading – this is one of my ‘read in the daylight hours’ books, rather than a ‘read before going to sleep’ book, because you do have to be concentrate.

The author himself is an investigative journalist, whose life and career is very, very interesting and successful. In this book, he is very open about his own suicidal thoughts, his perceived dissatisfaction with his own self. After looking at his website, with its diverse range of articles he has written, and his bio listing his achievements, you wonder why. But this is why he is perhaps the perfect person to write such a book. After all he has made it in his field, so what the hell is wrong with him? For these reasons alone this book is excellent as it is written with self interest at its heart, full of passion and that most important ingredient – curiosity.

He firstly sets the scene by looking at why people commit suicide or try, then takes us back to the beginnings of human civilisation when we lived in tribal groups, and conformity/sameness was the way the tribe survived. Then he takes us to Ancient Greece, where a beautiful and perfect physical form was such a crucial part of the philosophy of the times. The rise of Christianity/Catholicism with its rampant notions of guilt planted the seed for self doubt, inability to meet expectations. A long period of time passes till we get to mid 20th century USA with the beginnings of liberalism, the power of the individual, decline of collectivism, which have since evolved into the current latest greatest piece of economic thinking that benefits a few at the top of the money tree, and negates everyone below – neo-liberalism, epitomised in its most raw form as I see it in zero hours contracts. I still can’t get my head around employing someone, but not guaranteeing them any work. Tied up with this is a hilarious and almost unbelievable chapter about the ‘self esteem’ industry in America. That was an absolute revelation for me! He then moves into the frightening world of Silicon Valley, start ups, venture capital, Google and the like.

Finally, the last chapter – how to stay alive in the age of perfectionism – where it is all supposed to come together, but for me doesn’t! The only message I got out of this chapter, is that if you are unhappy in your life, things aren’t going right, you are overwhelmed and not coping, do not try to change yourself. We are essentially programmed from birth to react to situations in a certain way – how do you explain children brought up exactly the same way reacting differently to a life changing event. Because the answer is that you can’t change yourself – there goes the self help industry, cognitive therapy etc. What you have to do is change the world you live in, which translates as change your job/profession, where you live, how you live, who you live with. Easier said than done, but what this solution does is take away that you yourself are 100% responsible for your negative self-perception, and gives you the power to fix things in another way.

Well worth reading, and keeping for future forays. The ten page index is excellent, and the notes/references take up another 50 pages. Whenever you hear or read about why people self harm, you wonder if someone maybe a narcissist, what really went on in those hippie retreats in the 1960s, how Donald Trump got to be in the White House, pick this book up because it explains a lot.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Selfie
by Will Storr
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447283652

 

Book Review: Anaesthesia, by Kate Cole-Adams

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_anaesthesia.jpgAnaesthesia focuses on the brain, requiring the brain to focus on Anaesthesia. This makes for a challenging, fascinating, disquieting read, in no small part due to the underlying theme of uncertainty. There are still many unanswered questions about how anaesthetics work, how an individual brain will react, and what an adequate level of anaesthetic actually is. A line from page 126 sums up the experience of some patients very well: It was all, says author Kate Cole-Adams, very Lewis Carroll.

You don’t have to be a medical professional to read this book, only someone who – like Cole-Adams – is ready to be captivated by the mysteries of anaesthesia. She’s a writer and journalist who spent years carrying out research for this book, drawing on both personal and professional networks. She talked with anaesthetists around the world, observed operations, and attended conferences. She read widely, at times bewildered and frustrated by medical jargon. She entered the realms of psychiatrists, psychologists, hypnotists, neuroscientists and others skilled at studying and influencing how our minds and brains react. She also spoke with people willing and keen to share their personal (and sometimes dreadful) experiences with anaesthesia.

Cole-Adams suggests that the lines between anaesthesia, dreams and reality are indistinct and permeable. Consciousness, she suggests, is a small boat on an immense sea. She explores in detail how and what we are aware of, and under what conditions. She’s open about her own involvement with, and attitudes towards, anaesthesia. She also reflects on some of her past relationships and life choices, analyses recurrent dreams, and describes living with both physical and emotional unease including her anxiety about being put under.

There are numerous philosophical challenges for readers to engage with, particularly around the ‘interruption of self’ that occurs during anaesthesia. Cole-Adams encourages us to consider (and then reconsider) what consciousness is. Be prepared to confront your existing beliefs about what happens when you are anaesthetised, and the critical role that memory – or the absence of memory – plays. And yet despite the knowledge of what can and does go wrong, who among us will not choose to be comforted by the confidence and relative reassurance of the anaesthetist who visits our bedside before surgery?

There are lessons for medical staff too, with confirmation that hearing is likely to be the last sense to switch off under anaesthesia. Although some anaesthetics apparently suppress sound well, others are less effective. There is no easy way to tell how unconscious an individual patient may be, especially during the time that they are going into or emerging from an anaesthetic.

Cole-Adams is a keen observer of personalities, clothing, sights and sounds. She describes a no-nonsense professor of psychiatry who ate party pies doused with sauce as he strode along interrogating her about the purpose and funding of her book. She tells us about the tins of oatmeal cookies perched on the desk in the den of a world-famous anaesthetist, whose interview outfit included a tie decorated with colourful butterflies. And she – a sun-loving Australian – writes about her underwhelming visit to a bleak and gloomy corner of far-off Hull to attend yet another medical conference.

Questions of ethics abound. It’s alarming to learn about some of the experiments carried out on anaesthetised patients – and the dubious rationales for conducting some of the experiments. The terms that Cole-Adams uses to refer to patients are often sobering: deflated, panicked, wilted, overwhelmed, even crucified.  Perhaps it was inevitable that the word vulnerable would appear so frequently throughout the book.

Section and chapter headings hint at the strange and beautiful world we enter under anaesthesia: Denial, Moonless nights, Regression, Blood and blushing among them. Woven around the compelling and often disturbing stories, Cole-Adams offers anecdotal evidence, arguments and counter-arguments, new terms coined by scientists for states of anaesthesia, theories and hypotheses. She includes suggestions for further research – so much still remains unknown.

I’d be cautious about reading this book before a planned anaesthetic. Chances are nothing will go wrong, but the ‘what ifs’ may linger long after you read the final page.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Anaesthesia
by Kate Cole-Adams
Published by Text
ISBN 9781925498202

Book Review: Death Expands Us: An Honest Account of Grief and How to Rise Above it, by Stephanie Harris

cv_death_expands_usAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

On 6 April 2009 Stephanie Harris’ life was turned upside down when her thirty-three-year-old brother Brendon suddenly and mysteriously died. The first Stephanie knew he was ill was when her mother rang to tell her that he had been hospitalised during a business trip to Buenos Aires. The next morning she got phone call from her older sister Teresa to say he was dead.

The sudden death of a much-loved family member or friend brings all sorts of emotions to the surface – emotions that seem at times illogical and at times frightening with the intensity of these feelings.

I have read a number of self-help books the years where a close family member has died – sometimes expected and other times suddenly. I thought this book was well laid out with the grief process explained. Every person reacts differently to death and grief. No way is the right or wrong way. One book I read a number of years ago sprung to mind, Elizabeth Kulber-Ross’ On Death and Dying. The message is more or less the same but from a different perspective – of someone actually going through it. It bought all sorts of emotions back for me as I was reading it. I was able to rationalise how I had grieved at particular times through the sudden death of a much-loved family member.

I recommend this book as a tool in the grieving process. What I really liked about it was that even though Stephanie is a Grief Coach, she still sought help with her grieving. None of us like to think that perhaps there are times in which professional help is necessary.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Death Expands Us: An Honest Account of Grief and How to Rise Above it
by Stephanie Harris
Published by Lioncrest Publishing
ISBN 9780473388171