Chris Packham: ‘I read Brave New World at 13 – I found it terrifying but empowering’

Chris Packham: ‘I read Brave New World at 13 – I found it terrifying but empowering’

The book I am currently reading
I’ve just finished Dale Vince’s Manifesto. He’s the person behind green energy company Ecotricity, and he’s keen to encourage people to secure a happier, safer, healthier and more sustainable future.

The book that changed my life
I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New Worldwhen I was 13 and I found it terrifying but empowering. I identified with John the Savage, and with the oppressive nature of that world, and its dystopian future.

The book I wish I’d written
The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands. On the surface it’s a tale of a philosopher who decides to get a wolf. I have two black miniature poodles and they’re about to be joined by two more – I can tell you that four poodles would give any wolf a run for its money in terms of the dramatic impact they have on your life. It’s a fascinating account of their relationship, comparing the social lives of canids and primates.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. The romance of his writing and the way he describes landscapes are amazing. There is a section called “Escudilla” and it is one of the most beautiful, ultimately tragic passages of a book I’ve ever read. I struggle to read it without crying.

The book I think is most underrated
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. No one seems to have heard of it. It’s an astonishing book that portrays a woman who’s incapacitated through illness; she’s lying in bed, can’t move, and someone brings her a flower in a pot and on it is a snail. It’s about her relationship with that snail. It may not be Thomas Hardy, or F Scott Fitzgerald; the narrative content is limited. But what she does with it is incredible.

The book that changed my mind
Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott, about human overpopulation. By the time you get to the end of it, you should be terrified and thinking about what you could be doing to make sure there aren’t too many of us.

The book I couldn’t finish
There’s only one. If I start something, I have to finish it, so there’s only one film I’ve ever walked out of, Shirley Valentine, and one book I failed to finish, the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. I’d read all of his brother’s stuff when I was a child, so I picked it up thinking this is going to be great, and I found it lamentable. I got very angry with myself – I never get rid of books, but it’s one of the few I’ve given away because I didn’t want to keep remembering it as the one that beat me.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
Not one I’ve written yet. I can’t half-do anything, it’s an Asperger’s thing, so if I’m going to write another book my intention has to be that it will be the best one ever written in that genre. Obviously that sets the bar impossibly high, but I can’t go into it thinking this will be the 15th best nature book written this year, otherwise I wouldn’t bother to flip up the laptop screen. I think I’m on the brink of leaping and starting it.

o Back to Nature: How to Love Life – and Save It, by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin, is published by Two Roads (GBP20).

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