David Suzuki: Two books that changed my life


Many of us know David Suzuki for his work as a broadcaster and environmental activist. But before he ruled the airwaves as the host of Quirks & Quarks (from 1975 to 1979) and won the hearts of Canadians as the host of The Nature of Things, he was a distinguished professor and geneticist. Suzuki has written 40 books and received 24 honorary degrees. In 2004, when the CBC-TV program The Greatest Canadian invited the public to vote on the greatest Canadian of all time, he was ranked fifth.

This has been a milestone year for David Suzuki. He turned 75, and his passion for the planet still burns just as brightly as it did when he first fell in love with it more than 65 years ago. Recently, The Next Chapter asked him what books helped start it all. These are the two books that changed his life:


Animal Treasure
by Ivan T. Sanderson

Sanderson was a naturalist and writer who travelled the world, collecting animals for museums and scientific institutions. Animal Treasure is a report of his expedition to the jungles of what was then British West Africa and is a classic of early nature writing. It was first published in 1937.


Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson

Published in September of 1962, Silent Spring is widely credited with having helped create the environmental movement. Carson took aim at the chemical industry, documenting the negative and potentially disastrous effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson also described how DDT entered the food chain and could cause cancer and genetic damage in humans. It took Carson four years of meticulous research to write the book, and its publication marked her transformation from nature writing to social critic. 

But don't take our word for it. Here's what David Suzuki had to say:

"I guess I was about eight or nine years old when, in order to put in a book report, I took a book out of the library by a man by the name of Ivan Terence Sanderson. The book was Animal Treasure. Sanderson was the head of the St. Louis Zoo and the book was all about his expeditions to gather animals for the zoo and they were filled with such incredible stories and he was such a wonderful artist and he would draw many of the animals that they captured so the drawings were absolutely enchanting to me. And the idea that you could make a living and go out to these amazing places on the planet and gather these incredible animals, just fired up my imagination and said, wouldn't it be great to become a biologist?

"The second book was when I was an adult. Rachel Carson, a biologist, published a book called Silent Spring in 1962, and Silent Spring was all about the unexpected effects of pesticides. Rachel Carson's book was the first big document to say, hey, wait a minute guys, there are effects or costs that are associated with this huge technology. Guess what, it's affecting fish and birds and human beings. When Rachel Carson's book came out, it was a turning point. It really generated the modern environmental movement. If you read it today, every bit is relevant. We don't seem to have learned much from that lesson."

This interview originally appeared on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers. For more great book recommendations and interviews with some of Canada's rising literary stars, visit their website.
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