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Review: David Attenborough: The Early Years (Audiobook) by David Attenborough

on September 23, 2021

David Attenborough: The Early Years Collection
David Attenborough
Narrated by David Attenborough
2017, 10hrs 9min
Purchased personal copy via

Blurb {from the publisher}: David Attenborough, Britain’s voice of natural history, narrates his early adventures in Indonesia, New Guinea and Northern Australia. 

David Attenborough first appeared in front of a television camera in the 1950s when, together with London Zoo’s Curator of Reptiles, Jack Lester, he persuaded the BBC to mount and film an animal-collecting expedition. The result was Zoo Quest. Specially recorded for audio, David Attenborough’s early adventures are sometimes life-threatening, often hilarious and always totally absorbing. The warmth and enthusiasm that have made him a broadcasting legend are instantly apparent here as he recounts this magical journey. 

This collection includes three volumes from Attenborough’s chronicles of his early expeditions: 

In Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Attenborough tells of the crew’s hazardous boat trip with a gun-smuggling captain and the terror of erupting volcanoes. He also depicts for the listener some of the incredible sights he and his team witnessed – breathtaking butterflies, taking tea with Charlie the orangutan and the voyage to the little-known island of Komodo to capture the elusive Komodo dragon. 

Quest in Paradise describes his next animal collecting and filming trip to New Guinea, home of the exotic birds of paradise. David tells of his adventures during the trip: being an onlooker at a formal lovemaking ceremony, seeing the skills of ritual ax making, trying to master pidgin English and witnessing a ‘sing sing’ at which hundreds of tribesmen came together from all parts of the country. 

In Quest Under Capricorn, David Attenborough ventures to the Northern Territory of Australia. In his first expedition to the other side of the world, he meets Aborigines, goes walkabout in the bush, and learns the craft of the artists of Arnhem Land. 

Also included is David Attenborough in His Own Words, a collection of interviews taken from the BBC radio and TV archives. 

I feel like when I can’t decide what to listen to on audio and my credits are piling up – when in doubt, just go with a David Attenborough. He narrates all his books and I just find him so incredibly soothing to listen to. His voice has long been a huge part of the reason I find his documentaries so engaging and listening on audio without the images of what he’s talking about holds my attention just as well.

This is an account of some of Attenborough’s earliest expeditions – the first one was to Africa and isn’t covered here so I feel it probably is elsewhere and I’ll have to look for that one. It was a roaring success and enabled Attenborough to convince his employers at The BBC to fund another expedition, this time to Indonesia in search of the Komodo dragon. Because it’s also the 1950s, expeditions like this were how zoos got their exhibits and Attenborough and his crew are also charged with the capture of species to bring them back. Obviously this is not the done way anymore (and this is acknowledged in the recordings) but it does make for very interesting stories when Attenborough recounts things like being given a days old baby bear and having to teach it how to feed. Not long later, someone brings them a young orang-utan and Attenborough spends a lot of time with it as well. In further travels to New Guinea, someone gives him a blue-eyed sulphur-crested cockatoo which he becomes so fond of that despite the fact London Zoo would desire it, Attenborough elects to keep it himself. The third journey talked about in this audiobook is to the Northern Territory in Australia, to visit and film the wildlife of Kakadu.

Although this was recorded in 2017, Attenborough has chosen to read them as he originally wrote them, in the 1950s and early 60s. Because of that, there are probably a few terms or descriptions used that aren’t common now but what struck me was how much Attenborough’s attitude to native peoples was so well established that long ago and how he was thinking then, are the ways people are thinking now. This is particularly true in the Australia expedition where he talks about how white Australians have tried to tame the Northern Territory, trying to farm it or plant it and how they’ve largely failed and the only people who can live in this arid expanse without assistance, are our native Indigenous Australians and how they worship and respect the land, which was probably not an overly popular opinion. I also did not know that during this time, there was a very large population of introduced buffalo in the Northern Territory which have now been removed due to the damage they were wreaking on the land. Attenborough and his crew, a cameraman and sound recorder, undertook several expeditions to attempt to film them.

I have never seen some of these earliest documentaries – actually I’ve no idea if they’re still on rotation or if the footage is available anywhere to watch but I would love to see the shows produced from all three of these expeditions, having listened to this book I’d love to see what I just heard described in such vivid and wonderful detail. So now that is my next mission, to see if I can watch the footage from these trips and then after that, I plan to listen to all of Attenborough’s audiobooks in chronological order.

As well as the three books narrated here, there’s a collection of small snippets in the end of “Attenborough in his own words” taken from interviews over the years, including with Michael Parkinson and others and these are also well worth a listen. Attenborough is such an incredibly interesting person, the things he’s done in his life are incredible to hear about and he has such a natural gift for imparting knowledge in his stories. Picking his brain must be an amazing experience. He also does a very passable Australian accent, which many people cannot achieve.

Very enjoyable. But I feel as though anything from David Attenborough is a guaranteed good read/listen/watch.


Book #158 of 2021

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