A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

“We moved from being a part of nature to being apart from nature.”

I’m baaaaaccccck! I passed my program with flying colours and can now relax with my books again.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 274 pages.
Read from December 9, 2020 to December 15, 2020.

Outside of my obsession with cats, if you know anything about me, it’s how much I love nature documentaries. I don’t care for TV or movies but a good nature documentary I am always in for. This brings me to Sir David Attenborough, the narrator KING of nature documentaries. I will watch anything with this man in it. His voice is soothing, entertaining, and captivating. It will be a sad day for this planet when this man passes.

This book is a testament to Attenborough’s life and work, it is his “witness statement” as he refers to it. The book is part autobiographical as it discusses the beginnings of Attenborough’s interest in nature and our world when he was just a child, to how he got involved with the BBC and became the figure that we know today. However, this is to give credence to the message and statement that Attenborough wants to leave you with. Attenborough wants to bring to your attention to the rapid decline of biodiversity and changes in our world that he has personally witnessed throughout his life in exploring our world and all of its inhabitants. Attenborough discusses how we got to this place of decline with solutions that we can take now to prevent and heal the current damage. His tone is intensely urgent but non-judgemental and still very hopeful. At 93 years old he wants you to know what change has happened in his lifetime alone and putting into words a lasting statement of what he dedicated his life to. Attenborough hopes that future generations can take action and reap the benefits of a healthy and sustainable planet and future.

“We have come as far as we have because we are the cleverest creatures to have ever lived on Earth. But if we are to continue to exist, we will require more than intelligence. We will require wisdom.”

This book is meant to alarm you and make you feel uncomfortable but it also talks about people and businesses that are doing their part and how you have the power to as well. Attenborough’s writing is as cohesive and soothing as his voice making for a pleasurable read.

“We often talk of saving the planet, but the truth is that we must do these things to save ourselves. With or without us, the wild will return.”

Is Attenborough doing enough? Many vegans would argue that no, he is not. Attenborough is not a strict vegan or vegetarian though, he has, in recent years, substantially reduced his meat intake. Attenborough may not be vegan or vegetarian but he has a voice that he is using and that people will listen to. As a vegetarian myself, I believe that this a deeply personal choice that you cannot force it upon people and that real change comes with informed choices. With work like Attenborough’s and with him lending his voice to such an essential and necessary cause, it helps people make more scientifically backed, ethical, and informed choices in their own time. One of the reasons that Attenborough is so successful is that he is palatable and reaches people from all walks of life. He also has a firm belief in humanity to make good choices that will improve the life of everything on this planet. This delicate balance in advocacy that creates urgency and not fear, choice and not threats, is why his work is so valued and why he has reached so many.

“Everything is set for us to win this future. We have a plan. We know what to do. There is a path to sustainability. It is a path that could lead to a better future for all life on Earth. We must let our politicians and business leaders know that we understand this, that this vision for the future is not just something we need, it is something, above all, that we want.”

If I could recommend one wholesome and thought-provoking book to help you realise the state of our planet and how it’s not too late to make a difference, it would be this one.

“All we require is the will. The next few decades represent a final opportunity to build a stable home for ourselves and restore the rich, healthy and wonderful world that we inherited from our distant ancestors. Our future on the planet, the only place as far as we know where life of any kind exists, is at stake.”

Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

“The General will now enter the room.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Read from December 12, 2017 to December 15, 2017.

Who isn’t curious about North Korea? It is a strange and secretive country with an eccentric, peculiar, and potentially very dangerous leader that shuts out the world. How much of the North Korean propaganda is true? Are the people there truly sheltered and do they suffer? If you believe this defector and author of this memoir it will only make you hungry for more information on this fascinating country.

Jang Jin-Sung, a pseudonym for a North Korean man who was a famous and well-respected poet and government official. His life was much easier than many of his other friends and family due to his high ranking status. He was special as he was allowed into the small inner circle of people who got to meet their “Dear Leader” in person due to how well received his poetry was. Jin-Sung worked within The United Front Department (UFD) which is “responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policy-making and diplomacy” and in Jin-Sung’s job he was responsible for writing poetry and praise for North Korea under the facade of the praise coming from other countries, like South Korea. In order to do that, he was allowed to read South Korean newspapers and writings in order to keep with the style and approach of the writers there. The work was dangerous and highly controlled as with new ideas comes the idea that the North Korean regime is lesser. However, Jin-Sung began to question his “Dear Leader” after meeting him in person and after following a trail of dangerous thoughts and actions it eventually made him realise that he needed to defect or risk his life and potentially his whole family’s.

“I was restless with yearning to write realist poetry based on what I saw, and not loyalist poetry based on what we were all told to see.”

The harrowing description that Jin-Sung leaves an impoverished stifled and scared nation of people is hard to read. His escape is tragic and reads like a terrifying thriller that you are too afraid to look away from. I was completely engrossed in the story and was left hungry for more by the end. Books like this and others like them have come under scrutiny for their authenticity or have left many wondering how much was embellished for the sake of publications. It is almost easier to NOT believe that North Korea is a terrible as this book makes it sound as it is hard to fathom that so many people are living in such an oppressed and psychologically inhumane way. If this novel is as true as the author claims, it makes me thankful that my life is my own, that I have food in my belly, and that I express myself how I see fit.

“One reason why North Korea is unable to pursue reform and open itself more to the world is that this would risk exposing core dogmas of the state as mere fabrications.”

Whether you want to believe all, some or none of what is in this book you can’t deny the books high readability and enjoyability. In fact, this book made my top five favourite non-fiction reads of 2017 I enjoyed it so much. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, espionage, North Korea or memoirs. I can assure you that Jin-Sung’s story is not one you are likely to forget.

 

 

 

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor

“At Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full time job.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 175 pages.
Read from May 12, 2017 to May 13, 2017.

I wanted this book off Netgalley but it was no longer available. Dammit. Well, I wanted to read it so badly that I bought it. I was not disappointed.

Eva and her twin, Miriam, were just 10 years old when they were ripped away from their family. It was the middle of WWII and they were among the many Jews being taken to Auschwitz. Eva and Miriam never saw their family again and their survival began from the fact that they were identical twins. As twins, they were given a bit of special treatment compared to the other Jews as the Nazi’s were invested in keeping them alive, at least for a brief period of time. Dr. Josef Mengele, or the Angel of Death, as he became known carried out hundreds of inhumane experiments on twins. Twins were injected with nasty diseases and forced into experiments that killed most of them.

“I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ 

After fighting to stay alive though the experiments, even at 10, Eva was stubborn and driven to survive. Her uncanny resilience and skills are what kept her and her sister alive during their time in the Auschwitz camp. Eva never did discover what she was injected with despite her extensive research efforts as an adult. The outcome of these injections left both Eva and Miriam with lifelong repercussions and symptoms.

The scene that has been etched into my mind is the one Eva describes near the end of her story. Shortly after the camps had been abandoned by the Nazi’s, the remaining prisoners were struggling to survive and find food, many of them to weak or scared to leave the camp. While Eva is out looking for food she encounters a young normal-looking German girl on her way to school. Eva, in her thin and decrepit form, just stares at the girl. She is mortified to know that that people are living such regular lives while her and her sister lived through hell. Thankfully, the pair and the remainder of the prisoners were saved shortly thereafter.

eva moses kor

Eva’s story is jaw-dropping. I only put the book down because I had to, otherwise I would have read the whole book in one sitting. You get to know Eva and her family personally as she shares a less common (but equally horrifying) story of the Nazi era.

Eva’s advocacy and courage continued throughout her life with the creation of CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors).  She is also an advocate for forgiveness and has personally forgiven former Nazi’s for their part in the war.

If you have any interest in human resilience, survival, history, and just general awe-inspiring inspiration then I highly recommend this short read.