11 Explorations Into Life on Earth

11 Explorations Into Life on Earth: Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution

Author Helen Scales; foreword by Sir David Attenborough (wiki link).
Publishing year: 2017.

Helen Scales offers us a collection of essays describing the natural world as it was presented across the years in the Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution.

Christmas Lectures

The Christmas Lectures from the British Royal Institution are world renowned. They have been taking place since 1825 making them a tradition of almost 200 years. They have been recorded for television since 1936 and broadcasted since 1966.These lectures are aimed at a young audience. The intention of the lecturer is to explain scientific notions and natural phenomena and spark interest in the developing minds. 

Using the video recordings of the lectures and other documentation, Helen Scales writes a fascinating essay of that lecture. Her goal is to inspire passion for science and wonder for the natural world.

Historical Perspective

Some of the lectures took place at the beginning of last century, therefore Helen Scales puts everything into historical perspective. A few of the notions and ideas were not fully understood at that time. Finding about those mistakes today is not detrimental, rather it helps the reader understand how the scientific process works.

atural World representation: two butterflies on yellow flowers.
Her goal is to inspire passion for science and wonder for the natural world.

Helen Scales manages to convey the contemporaneity of the lessons presented despite the fact they took place a few decades ago: 

“Although these Lectures were given eighty years ago he talks a thoroughly modern view on endangered wildlife and the urgent need for conservation.”

Natural World

Starting with The Childhood of Animals and The Haunts of Life the book introduces us to the life of animals and insects as part of the natural world. We can read how animals move and how they behave. Furthermore, we can read about how we classify them and about how they communicate. A few of the lectures try to explain evolution.

Among the essays we can read about Sir David Attenborough’s lecture from 1977. He manages to amaze his audience by bringing into the lecture a few animals from the zoo.

In  Julian Huxley’s lecture Rare Animals and the Disappearance of Wild Life we can read about his concern for the disappearance of wildlife. Even back then, scientists were already trying to raise alarm for the need for better management of the natural environment.

Natural world: rhino on green field.
“Stories of dragons, Huxley thinks, originate in ancestral memories of extinct ice-age beasts, like cave lions and hyenas.”

Our Place in the Natural World

Making the transition from the natural world to our place in the natural order, we can read about Richard Dawkins’s lecture from 1991 ‘Growing up in the Universe’. He explains in a very engaging way what evolution is and invites his audience to have a more curious approach to the wonders of the natural world:

“People often don’t open their eyes to the great wonders of life on planet Earth, because of what Dawkins calls the “anaesthetic of familiarity”. He suggests a few ways we can try to awaken our fascination.”

Desmond Morris explains human behavior:

“Nothing fascinates man quite so much as his own behavior’, says Morris. ‘From the depth of scandalous gossip to the heights of poetic expression, man comments on the ways of man.”

The Printed Version

The printed version of the book has an exquisite feel to it. It has a vintage cover. Inside we can see hand drawn pictures conveying a sense of authenticity to the historical times the lessons took place in.

The whole book feels like a piece of authentic art. 

We need to understand the importance of the natural world. This is especially true in our modern world of excessive consumerism. Natural life is important for human life. We need to be better stewards for the wildlife and the natural world. 

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