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4.8 out of 5 stars52
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on 22 March 2004
There are essentially two sides to David Attenborough's autobiography. Firstly it is a superb collection of anecdotes concerning a career that saw the author trek across most of the globe to film some of the greatest natural history series ever produced, as well as work with all manner of people from animal collectors, to conservationists, to the queen. The juxtaposition chapters devoted to natural history, with those describing life at the BBC and David Attenborough's various duties, help keep the pages turning and add many wonderful comic moments, as well as giving a rare insight into the early days of the BBC.
The book is quite simply, a hugely enjoyable read, there are no prolonged accounts of rocky relationships, or attempts to qualify controversial decisions, as is the case in so many biographies. Travel and the production of quality wildlife programs, have been David Attenborough's goals, and their achievement has given him many wonderful experiences that he simply wants to share with his readers.
There is however, a second side to the book. Though David Attenborough's manner is gentle, jovial and indeed very humble, there are serious issues discussed in the book. Descriptions of cults that retaliate against, or subvert western intervention, as well as tales of meeting people from places such as the Falklands, are just a couple of examples where the reader is introduced to emotional situations. What is key is that David Attenborough tells events as he sees them, and clearly endeavours to give an open and fair account of peoples opinions.
The fact that David Attenborough was probably one of the last westerners to see many cultures almost untouched, or, equally, one of the first to see the results of western intervention, puts the book almost beyond value. The book is truly global in scope and offers a unique and inspiring view of the world as it was, and as it is.
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on 19 February 2003
It's remarkable to think that Sir David has spent 50 years in Television. It was also refreshing to read an autobiography with no swear words or obscenities. I think many so-called celebrities would learn that you don't need to criticise or publicly offend others to sell a book.
Sir David's an ambassador not only to the Wildlife he so excellently narrates but also to his pioneering behind the scenes work at the BBC.
Overall I found this book a must read for all those David Attenborough fans and for those interested in how programmes are made and how the technology has changed over the years.
The question we all want answering is.... What will Sir David do next?
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on 17 March 2004
I have just read Life on Air, and I think I have developed more than a little crush on a man more than 40 years my senior... Until I saw the portrait-programme with Michael Palin, I never knew what charming and witty raconteur David Attenborough is. Being Norwegian I knew him only as an enthusiastic oddball from wildlife programmes, with wind in his hair and mud on his shirt.
This book is brimful not only of anecdotal charm and witty perceptions, but also offers interesting insights into the development of the BBC as an organisation, and of television broadcasting as a medium, with both technical and editorial challenges. I only wish he had chosen to tell more of his personal life, but as the title indicates, it focusses on the bit of his life that has been on air. Fair enough. Modest without being coy, he readily acknowledges the talents, skills and hard work of those around him, but is nevertheless beaming with pride over his own accomplishments as well. It's refreshing! The book is seeping with both boyish curiosity as well as respect and awe for his subjects, be they animal, mineral or vegetable. Or human, for that matter. But throughout it all, the most remarkable aspect of the book is the radiating narrator. Yes, I am infatuated. A truly, warmly, deeply recommended read!
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on 25 October 2002
As well as giving us an idea of what happens inside the Beeb, David Attenborough also takes us on a time travel in the development of technology used to film wildlife. His story telling skills are able to keep us interested in all his anecdotes - some are really brilliant !! Like the April fool's one or the change over from black and white to colour television, and so on... You can even hear him telling the stories since he wrote the book in his own words.
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on 13 October 2004
I don't normally go in for celebrity (auto)biographies, but I picked this up on holiday as it was the best thing on offer, and found it was surprisingly absorbing! There may've been a more recent edition than the one I read, which terminated just after his wife's death, and so misses some of Attenborough's more recent work, such as the Blue Planet series, but covers all of his television career up to that point.
Despite being an autobiography, Attenborough does his best not just to describe what many people will have seen of his work on television. There are many amusing anecdotes to be found, and the tales of his adventurers around the world really are quite special, since so much his changed in the intervening years (indeed his experience of Komodo Island before and after is one perfect example). There's also quite an insight to be had into the workings of the BBC, and Attenborough's supporting stance is quite plain (one particular encounter he had with the chairman of ITV springs to mind).
All in all, a mixed bag. It suffers all the pitfalls common to autobiographical works, in my opinion, but his travels and experiences have been interesting enough to warrant it worth the read.
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on 7 February 2003
David Attenborough's book takes us back to the very beginning of picture broadcasting at the BBC, and what he describes is, at the same time, both ground-breaking and charming. Scratching together production teams, equipment, money!! - David and his associates began to set the standard by whicg natural history programmes would be measured for decades.
He describes the production of all his series, from Zoo Quest to Life of Plants, and although the technology and techniques improve, you always get the feeling that Lord Attenborough is simply a jolly clever and jovial chap, doing what he loves doing.
His enthusiam pours from the pages (well, maybe less so when he describes his time as Director of Programmes of BBC2, but for the reader this provides an interesting insight into the workings of Auntie Beeb). The picture collection is fascinating too.
It's always a pleasure to read an autobiography of someone who you admire, Life On Air exceeds all expectations.
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on 11 October 2009
Hard to think of somebody who more deserves the title 'Sir' than David Attenborough. Amongst my favourite television when I was a child were his then-almost ubiquitous documentaries, or the many he lent his voice to. It's saddening that these days daytime television, and prime-time, has replaced these educational and inspirational programs with faceless dancing and singing competitions.

Whilst Sir David may be a documentary extraordinaire, his literary talents are in no doubt. The books he releases to accompany his new series are always lucid, informative, pleasurable and fascinating. Part of the charm of Sir David's programs are that he does not intrude upon the nature therein; rather, he realises that he is there simply to bring the delights of nature to us, and in doing so is happy to abstain from imposing his persona too heavily. The wildlife is the star; he is the compere.

What a rare gem of a book this is then! This time, he is the subject. With the wit, intelligence and anecdotes to match any Michael Palin, he whisks us through his quite remarkable life with verve, good humour (often self-deprecating)and modesty.

The man has done so much. More than any of us could hope to achieve. Instrumental in the formation of BBC2 and the introduction of colour television to the UK, the parts of his story that deal with his time as a producer at the BBC are just as good to read as his tales of komodo dragons, kiwis and orang utans. He imparts wonderful anecdotes with an easy frequency. From the first program he presented proper, Zoo Quest, to the hi-tech Life of Birds, every facet of his career that one might care to know about is here. He barely touches on his personal life, and rightly so. It is enough to know that he married and had children. Anyone who craves more than that is a voyeur.

Simply put, there is not a thing to fault with this book. There is an awful lot to praise. Easily the best biography I've had the pleasure to read.
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on 18 October 2002
Sir David Attenborough and his captivating programmes about the natural world, for many people - myself included, have always been there. My first recollections of his work are Sunday evenings in front of the television watching The Living Planet - the accompanying book still sits on my book-shelves. Life On Air provides an insight on the 30 years experience that were used to make that programme, and all the others that I have watched since, so great. What is lovely about the narration is that you get the impression that Sir David not only wants to make the programmes, he almost "has too". His desire to capture on film as many aspects of the planet earth is all consuming, and this is probably why his programmes remain so popular today.
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on 13 August 2003
I was actually surprised at how absorbing 'Life on Air' was. I suppose I shouldn't have been but, through 50 years of television appearances, David Attenborough has always seemed happy to play a supporting role to the wonders of nature. It was fascinating therefore to be taken on a guided tour of his life by the man himself and to discover how genuine, interesting and charming he is off, as well as on, air. His recounting of his early days in television, with the technical challenges it presented both in the studio and on location, is absorbing and, at times, hilarious and his achievements as a BBC executive are a revelation to those of us who only know him on screen. The heart of the book though is his passion and deep respect for the natural world - again illustrated with captivating anecdotes - and a reminder of how many wonders of the world were first revealed to us, so enthusiastically, by David Attenborough. Some readers might pine for some more personal insights into Sir David's life but such sentiments overlook how personal his life's work really is.
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on 19 September 2003
David Attenborough is probably the person who I would most like to meet. He is a master of his craft within the oft-over rated world of the TV presenter, and has honed his gift over many years, starting as a dreaming idealist in the very early years of TV, when "Zoowatch", rather than "Eastenders" was compelling viewing. He also comes across as a thoroughly engaging, likeable, and, above all, enthusiastic man, one who actually lives for his work, and who desperately wants the rest of us to share in the wonders of the natural world.
"Life On Air" slickly takes us on a retrospective of Attenborough's career. Much of the book is taken up with those early days spent in TV, the trials and tribulations of travelling to far off, relatively unknown places, and getting co-operation from not only the animals he went to find, but the people in the countries involved-a TV camera was not the magnet for the bystander it is today.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the book deals with Attenborough's time as head of BBC2. Little do we realise that it was during his time the revered programme "Match Of The Day" first came to our screens. He pioneered many new and startling, often original programmes, including "The Ascent Of Man" and "Civilisation", epics that will probably never be equalled. Interesting, to say the least, that he has been the inspiration behind programmes other than those who he himself developed and presented, amongst them, "The Secret Life Of Plants", rejected by companies in the US because plants were, well supposedly "boring"!
Rumour has it that a series on insects is next on Attenboroughs list. It will be as popular as all of his prior programmes have been, most of which are dealt with in the book, including, of course, the seminal "Life On Earth". Take the time to read this book and be immersed with a master, a man who brings quercus robur and macroglossum stellatarum to our screens, and makes them as watchable-and more interesting-than any episode of "Pop Idol"
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