A Life on Our Planet Book Summary - A Life on Our Planet Book explained in key points
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A Life on Our Planet summary

David Attenborough

My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future

4.6 (192 ratings)
16 mins

What is A Life on Our Planet about?

A Life on Our Planet (2020) is celebrated naturalist David Attenborough’s account of the incredible wonders he’s seen in his 94 years on Earth – and a vivid warning of what will happen if we continue on our current path. It’s accompanied by a Netflix documentary of the same name.

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    A Life on Our Planet
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    As Attenborough got older, his fascination with the natural world gradually changed to concern.

    When the author, David Attenborough, was a child, he would spend whole days cycling around the countryside of Leicester, UK, hunting for ammonites – small fossilized sea creatures from millions of years ago. Their spirally little shells, frozen in time in the limestone, sparked in the young boy a fascination with the natural world and the truths that govern it.

    Eventually, he learned that the ammonites had died out during the last mass extinction – which is when an apocalyptic event caused by global change wipes out great numbers of species in one go. The last mass extinction ended the 175-million-year era of the dinosaurs. In the millions of years since then, life rebooted into a long period of stability in which humans could eventually develop. 

    Unlike any species before us, we were able to develop something utterly unique: culture. Through culture, and our newborn ability to store and pass on knowledge from generation to generation, we developed ever more sophisticated ways to make the natural world easier to live in. With this new power came tremendous responsibility.

    The key message here is: As Attenborough got older, his fascination with the natural world gradually changed to concern. 

    About 10,000 years ago, in what is today the Middle East, people started farming grains and domesticating wild animals. Ultimately, they had enough surplus for some people to trade their crafts for food rather than spend time growing it. This was the beginning of civilization. But each advancement these complex societies made relied on one thing: the stability of their environment. 

    As Attenborough’s career progressed from presenter to executive at the BBC, which he had joined in 1952, he began to realize that this stability was in peril for the first time in human history. As he crisscrossed the world producing natural history programs, he saw more and more evidence that humans were not only impacting the precious biodiversity of the planet, but causing habitats to disappear entirely. 

    In 1978, Attenborough got a chance to travel to Rwanda to film mountain gorillas. What he found there changed his outlook forever.

    He particularly remembers one surprising, and very intimate, encounter when a huge female gorilla appeared from a bush behind him and began playing with his face. Then he felt something land on his feet – her two infants were playing with his shoelaces! 

    The situation for these human-like creatures was dire. Fewer than 300 individuals were left. Their habitat had been severely reduced as people cut down rainforest to create cultivated fields. What’s more, the gorillas were being killed by poachers, who sold their severed body parts as souvenirs. 

    This was Attenborough’s first realization that we were causing irreparable harm to the most precious of Earth’s wonders. Unfortunately, it was far from his last.

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    About the Author

    David Attenborough has been making natural history programs for over 60 years. He has traveled all over the world, bringing the most rare and amazing animal and plant species to an adoring global audience.

    Who should read A Life on Our Planet?

    • Anyone who loves nature television
    • Those concerned about global warming
    • People who want to take action to save our planet before it’s too late

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