The judges for this category will have a tough time choosing between these books: a natural historian, a former president and a Second World War veteran are just some of the authors on this list. Weaving a string between all of these books is the remarkable stories they tell and the important topics they tackle, from racism to climate change to hopefulness.
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The book lacks the searing images of the accompanying Netflix documentary — huge trees being sawn down; orang-utans clinging to lone trunks; and whales being harpooned into bloody chunks. But the printed page does showcase Attenborough’s unparalleled ability to boil down complex processes into grand sentences. “The living world is essentially solar-powered,” begins his chapter urging a shift to renewable energy. “We moved from being a part of nature to being apart from nature,” he laments. From there he glides through key concepts, such as the economist Kate Raworth’s “doughnut model” of planetary boundaries.
Deforestation has to stop, notably the grim spectacle of rainforests being cleared to make way for cattle and oil palms. The ancient practice of silvopasture — animals grazing in woodland — should return and large predators should be reintroduced. The latter because of a phenomenon called the trophic cascade, in which top predators create a more stable ecosystem by altering the behaviour of creatures lower down the food chain. And so on.
Finally, even in Pripyat, there is hope. The town has been spectacularly rewilded, not by us, but by nature. It is covered in thick vegetation and there are populations of foxes, elk, deer, wild boar, bison, brown bear and racoon dogs. Not, of course, humans.
“We can yet make amends,” Attenborough says at the end of his troubled valedictory. That “yet” clearly signalling that, for him and the planet, time is short.
Read this book to learn, but also to honour the man. We shall never see his like again.