I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I’m going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I’ll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I’ll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of David Suzuki: An Autobiography, is from October 3, 2006.

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We live in a time when the military, industry, and medicine are all applying scientific insights, with profound social, economic, and political consequences. As a result, ignoring scientific matters is very dangerous. It’s not that I believe science will ultimately provide solutions to major problems we face; I think solutions to environmental issues are much more likely to result from political, social, and economic decisions than from scientific ones. but scientists can deliver best descriptions of the state of the climate, species, pollution, deforestation, and so on, and these should inform our political and economic actions. If we don’t base our long-term actions on the best scientific knowledge, then I believe we are in a great danger of succumbing to the exigencies of politics and economics.

-David Suzuki.

An nice quote from noted Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki. For me, this quote pretty well sums up this entire book, a strong call for rationality, for scientific literacy, and even stronger call to save the environment, to be active, to make a difference. These are certainly what Suzuki’s life have been all about. By implication, by example, these are the things he calls on us to make part of our lives too.

This is a great book, moving and impassioned, and yet still very human. Suzuki is clearly not overly impressed with himself, not caught up with his own celebrity and this makes his memoirs so engaging. There’s lots of gentle humour here, often at his own expense. He also balances the story of his public life with the story of his private life. He gives enough insight into his personal to give us a good feeling of who he is without so much that it feels intrusive or exploitative.

Following up his first volume of memoirs, Metamorphosis from 1986, Suzuki mostly picks up where that one leaves off. He gives us a brief summary of his childhood, education and early academic and broadcasting career in the first few chapters. Since it’s been nearly 20 years since I read Metamorphosis, I really can’t recall how much is rehashed and how much is new. The following chapters are mostly telling the story of his environmental activism along with some details about his family life. The story we get the most on is his involvement with First Nations communities, particularly in BC. Also, we get three strong chapters on his involvement with Amazon forestry issues. Also various environmental summits are covered, including the Rio Earth Summit and Kyoto.

But it’s the last two chapters that I really loved, “Reflections on Science and Technology” and “A Culture of Celebrity.” These are almost manifestos to pay attention to the planet, to learn about our place in the ecosystem and to value science — he takes a few digs at Canadian culture for placing such a low value on science. He also muses a bit on the whole “Greatest Canadian” thing, and our insane celebrity culture in general. It’s interesting to note that the poll placed him the highest of any living Canadian. David Suzuki — greatest living Canadian. I can live with that.

I would be remiss if I did not give some important links:

Suzuki, David. David Suzuki: An Autobiography. Vancouver: Greystone, 2006. 404pp.

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