Sir David Attenborough's love of books | The Folio Society



the first book I really can see now if I shut my eyes was an extraordinary book called foxes Book of Martyrs and it must be a 17th century book it blonde my grandfather who I never met but it was left to my uncle and it would lodged our house and it contained the most hair-raising engravings of people having their guts pulled out and being burnt alive nothing another and it's time it was a very famous book and no doubt it was a very valuable bond but I was absolutely fixated by these images of terrible things happening to human beings and human beings doing terrible things to other human beings so foxes Book of Martyrs is the first book which I can remember pages of if I die of errors one of the first which I read over and over again but I haven't be truthful I haven't read it for a very long time was called wild animals I have known by a man called Ernest Thompson Seton who was a ranger on the Canadian Prairie and a very considerable artist well a very competent artist I mean he drew lots of illustrations of these animals that he knew and there were also along the margins along the outer margins of the text there were footprints so you could imagine yourself tracking these things and they were personified the animals are personified to the extent that I could give you their names now I mean rocky lug the cottontail rabbit for example lobo the wolf and king of the quorum poor level and ah and I wept buckets have when Reggie lugs mother was killed by a wolf I think but they were animal stories which were they weren't given all those number of human characteristics they were real animals all right and the ran also had names but they were real animals and I believed every everything he wrote and he was a very very good natural well as a biologist I have to say that printed books are a very one of a very important category of things which which Richard Dawkins is called memes that is to say they are things in which the human experience is embedded and handed on from generation to generation but outside the body they're not the nothing to do with the sort of genes which you know the he called the memes and they are the way in which one generation passes on experience and knowledge and wisdom over generations and that's why fundamentally books are important and they've been important of course and so at the end of the 15th century I mean there was 600 years pretty well and if it wasn't for books there's no way in which you could have conveyed that information until their coming of the electronic age when in which is to some extent replace books and in some extent replace writing but there's 600 years of experience that's hanging out there and they couldn't all be transcribed by by hand and so they'd have to be transcribed by printing well I suspect the people would say that he was a fairly uncultured I am ashamed really that my knowledge of literature is as poor as it is but every now and again about every 15 or 20 years I suddenly so do realize you just don't know this author that or the other people talking about and I try and give myself a course I first started in the late teens when I read realize that I have never read prompted I never read Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or these things I better do so because how can you go on talking but people pretending you read em but the number said the number of works of fiction on my shelves is shamefully poor shamefully few they would think of how since in natural history they would think that I was interested in the history of Natural History I mean I actually collect early books early natural history books and so they would think I had a fair interest in that and I hope that they would think that I liked good writing not necessarily fiction but but certainly good travel writing and so on and that there's my those are my terms I was particularly interested in in tribe or tribal average which is they has the uncomfortable business of producing very very heavy large volumes of a great expense before you to look through usually the same objects but nonetheless I time but I tend to buy those certainly one of my favorite books which I read when I was dispersed about twelve or fourteen was Alfred Russel Wallace his troubles in the Far East insert of them the birds paradise islands of the eastern archipelago is called and I thought he was a marvelous man and indeed he was full of insight and compassion for the people he met he were entire by himself getting on for eight years I think wandering around in the islands of East Melanesian western New Guinea and and Borneo and he writes brilliant senses Marvis things and that's a book I admire very much and and have done since I first read it well as I say twelve or fourteen oh yes there are some there are some passages some very famous passages there one or two passages in books I mean the last page of the Origin of Species of which it has a very very famous paragraph and of Darwin's about looking at the tangled bank in an English hedgerow and seeing how all these things fit together which is a memorable except of course I can't remember verbatim but it is a very memorable and important summary of his attitudes and then one or two paragraphs like that in Mullis about the thrill of seeing a butterfly that he'd been pursuing for a long time eventually actually having it in his hand and saying I felt terribly faint that blood rushed to my head and my heart beat faster and I thought that I was on the verge of fainting no charming sort of I'm gonna say naive but straightforwardly honestly honestly about his own reactions there's that listen that there's another very famous paragraph in which he says he gazed on birds of paradise or beautiful white things and and thought and thought why why is it that such a thing of such extraordinary beauty has evolved in wild places we're now civilized human being would ever see them or and and then leads him to the end say so I'm bound to conclude that they were it came into existence with no thought of humanity and no thought of mankind and they will go on evolving in spite of mankind mankind has got nothing to do with what they are well one of my most precious books is Lucretius I was published in in Venice in 1515 by Aldus Manutius who was a Venice printer who published the equivalent of penguin if could in the paperbacks that all great classical authors or bosonic that were published by Aldus Manutius in a small book live outside in a wonderfully elegant italic script typeface and that belonged to my grandfather same man who had blown the foxes Book of Martyrs and he left it to my father and and my grandfather died 1922 which was four years of I was born and my father mother left it to me and I treasured that very much from both my parents and my grandparents about three about once well there is something about a book that has just recently printed it does have a smell it does have a and and it I thrill and I and I am subject to it because I thought I was going to be a publisher when I was some left university I had go into the Navy model and I decided I wasn't didn't at the dedication to be a sort of sign for the biological scientists which I might have been and I thought I was going to publishing and I took a course in in graphic reproductions on the school of printing and I loved the smell of printers ink and I loved the feel of print on paper and I find them quite irresistible I mean I'm an absolute sucker in a bookshop by its disastrous I try to keep away if I can't really I mean because I just simply just love these things the Christmas I'll be particular when you opening I know it's not and then you do that ring for the first time because I equally like old books would I know lots of people have already here before me I took a course in typography so that I ought to be able to recognize counsel on and Baskerville and fuel Sam's which I certainly can write so that's an easy one so yes typography is in so it's loud it is surprising to me actually that these days of course it's very easy to be self-published and and self-published books are sent to me by very generous people who want me to read their memoirs or whatever but they're so badly designed and I sometimes look at it and think it is just because you're used to a particular way of putting tae-bong on on a page or is there something about that style which was really having elegance which this doesn't and self-published books can be really terrible I mean they can be a painful to read because of because the distribution of the type on the on the page and and the no idea what the prelims for and and so on but I hope it's not convention I mean for example the oldest Manutius that I was talking about in the Venice book fifteen fifteen and doesn't have a title page they hadn't evolved title pages in the early 16th century I mean you will have to turn to the back see you bro and it has an elegance which which isn't a conventional ethical say but it can doubtedly elegant they're the last people you can guarantee to be good conversationalist I mean they think of course they converse like anybody else but they don't produce dazzling necessarily produce dazzling conversation and if my friends ever see this who are authors I don't mean you of course I mean somebody else but but I so I'm not sure that I would want an author Isaac Tolstoy a big terrible chap havin dinner with wouldn't you I wouldn't want to have dinner with the edge Lawrence I though you know he would upset people very well who would I like I mean I Oscar Wilde would be quite fun but um I know Polly that I would want to fall for them being literary as it were I mean I would I would deal it come think that IRA didn't like have Dampier William Dampier the 17th century early 18th century late 17th century ah kunia who's wrote his voyages are fantastic and you wouldn't need to have anybody else furtillo if you had William Dampier but he could he would go on more about how he laid siege this now I come to that Spanish galleon and did frightful things but he would be with you be there at any time only little kidding well it wouldn't be mr. Darcy would it and it wouldn't be that fellow from bothering Heights I wouldn't be bothered with him so who would I have I can't think I can't think of anybody out here the Long John Silver probably you

12 thoughts on “Sir David Attenborough's love of books | The Folio Society

  1. Youtube subtitles are abysmal. You couldn't have a better clearer English speaker than David Attenborough, yet the subtitles still manage to make mince meat of his words.

  2. For the people trashing folios prices ,buy them second hand ,as mostly they are given as gifts and never read.i have collected for years this way ,they are wonders to behold ,and read ,this was a marvelous find folio,and attenbourgh ,nice to see Alfred Russell Wallace get a mention ,a much overlooked figure in evolutionary history.

  3. Sir. David Attenborough seems enthusiastic about books. That's nice to see 🙂 I wonder if he has ever collected unabridged dictionaries?

    Dictionaries are fun to collect, because the spoken word is fascinating to see develop over a certain period of time.

    I own the following unabridged dictionaries: 1864, 1903, 1934 ,1943, 1956, 1966.

  4. Thank you for sharing this video, thereby giving us a privileged glimpse into Sir Attenborough's private litterary domain. His choice is bound to be a source of enlightenment, because he's a deep thinker and has always concerned about consequential issues. As with all the Greats, his modesty is disarming. By the way, thanks to this lovely vignette, I'm subscribed! Look forward to hearing from you soon. My respectful regards.

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