Living Planet, a review

Living Planet: The Web of Life on Earth by David Attenborough, is a republication of a title first published in 1984. It’s not just a reprint however. Attenborough has updated the book, firstly to represent the scientific developments that have come about over the past (almost) 40 years, and also to ensure that this book is actually different to the first. Attenborough went through and altered the examples of flora and fauna he used. He mentions instead less commonly known species, which I really appreciate as it means the “old” book is still worth reading in it’s own right as well as teaching me about more species!

But now onto the actual book. This is, if you weren’t aware, an environmental non-fiction written by a beloved Naturalist. The book is split into 12 separate chapters which all discuss different aspects of our planet. These all interlink with each other and culminate in a final chapter on how humans interact with this environment.

This first chapter was all about volcanism so I was obviously in my element here! I loved learning more about the ecology present at volcanic sites and about some species I’d never heard about before. It does also discuss volcanoes themselves, nothing new for me here but I still love reading about it (cause I’m a giant nerd 😂).

Chapter two is all about frozen climates. I liked learning about the similarly evolved to penguins birds in the north (auks). I didn’t realise that the sea level would rise about 55m if Antarctica melted! I enjoyed the discussion on how the Inuit survived the harsh climate. Of course this section had a fair bit of discussion around global warming, a lot has changed.

The third chapter was on slightly less northern climes, this time focusing on northern forests. It was really interesting to learn more about the similarities across continents and also the slight differences that appear as you move towards the equator!

Chapter four was on jungle environments in Asia, Africa, and South America. I’ve been in the South American rainforest and it was so cool to read Attenborough talking about some animals and birds I was able to see in real life as well as their companions on different continents!

For the fifth chapter it was all about the grasslands and the animals that developed there. That naturally then lead to discussions on how colonisers massacred many species when moving into these areas, despite the native populations being able to maintain equilibrium for centuries. It’s interesting to see how these species develop the same characteristics separately from each other across the planet.

Chapter six was about desert environments across the planet, super interesting to learn about the different adaptations in the different variations of desert and the Tassili paintings are amazing and the evidence they give us is invaluable! I can’t believe I’d never heard of them before.

Chatper seven now and this chapter was on the creatures that spend their time in the sky. I loved Attenborough explaining how the flight mechanics of birds is so similar to that of airplanes. I also had no clue that little butterflies could be swept so high up into the sky! And now I really want to go in a hot air balloon and experience that world for myself!

Sweet Fresh Water is chapter eight, this chapter was all about the life that’s supported by rivers and lakes. I *really* am not keen on aquatic life (phobia level not keen) so this wasn’t my favourite chapter, but it was super interesting and I loved learning more about otters, beavers, and birds that utilise the rivers and lakes.

Chapter nine was on The Margins of the Land and as someone who’s studied (a little) about mangroves at university, I found learning about their environments and revisiting them really fun. These creatures that live in the margin worlds are able to tolerate such a vastly changing environment that it’s fascinating to learn about them.

Chapter ten was “World’s Apart” talking about island nations and landmasses with uniquely evolved species. I loved learning about this unique adaptations from places like New Zealand and Hawai’i to remote atolls barely touched by humans. I also appreciated the discussions on how humans impacted these environments when they reached them, both from European colonisers but also the people who first reached these land masses.

A fascinating but (for me) deeply disturbing section: Open Ocean is the eleventh chapter. Despite this chapter being filled with my phobias, it’s still so incredibly interesting to learn about. Especially the comparisons between “similar” environments on land, and also the various adaptations of the deep. But I can’t lie, I’m glad the fish-y sections are over!

The final, twelfth, chapter was on new worlds, all about how humans have altered the species around us for all of our existence. 10,000 years ago all the way up until now. I enjoyed learning more about the ancestral changes (which were bigger than I’d expected) but also appreciated the discussion about the havoc we’re wrecking on our planet in the modern day.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Research: 10, Uniqueness: 9, Readability: 10, Personal Impact: 8, Intrigue: 8, Informativeness: 9, Enjoyment: 10, giving a score of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

I’m so glad that I deeply enjoyed reading this book and I definitely want to pick up more of Attenborough’s non-fiction in the future. Have you read anything from David Attenborough? Or even watched his documentaries? I highly recommend them!

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