For 20 years John Aitchison has been travelling the world to film wildlife for the BBC and other broadcasters, taking him to faraway places on every continent.
The Shark and the Albatross is the story of these journeys of discovery, of his encounters with animals and occasional enterprising individuals in remote and sometimes dangerous places.
His destinations include the far north and the far south, expeditions to film for Frozen Planet and other natural history series, in Svalbard, Alaska, the remote Atlantic island of South Georgia, and the Antarctic. They also encompass wild places in India, China and the United States.
In all, he finds and describes key moments in the lives of animals, among them polar bears and penguins, seals and whales, sharks and birds, and wolves and lynxes. He reveals what happens behind the scenes and beyond the camera. He explains the practicalities and challenges of the filming process and the problems of survival in perilous places. He records touching moments and dramatic incidents, some ending in success, others desperately sad.
There are times when a hunted animal triumphs against the odds and others when, in spite of preparation for every outcome, disaster strikes. And, as the author shows in several incidents that combine nail-biting tension with hair-raising hilarity, disaster can strike for filmmakers too.
This is natural history writing at its absolute best, evocative, informative and gripping from first to last.
"This is a lovely book, vividly written, giving us a fascinating insight into the world of wild life photography. It is a must for all those who enjoy insights into the natural world." (Alexander McCall Smith)
"In a word, beautiful. John shares the experience of patiently waiting, then the euphoria of capturing the action; capturing the art in nature." (Bill Oddie)
"Here you'll find a version of the world which is more real, more intense and, sadly, more beautiful than the one most of us are forced to occupy." (Adam Nicolson)
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Brilliant insight to wildlife and film-making.
Varied, interesting and well paced chapters. Inspiring descriptions and explanations.
The author 'takes you' to some remote and amazing locations and describes the lives of the animals, birds and people (not just the subject of the film he's making).
Highlights the hardships and challenges the film crew go through to get the iconic images we all remember, all without it ever becoming imposing.
Provides details of behavior, environment and even some technical film-making details - but it's never too much.
At the end of each chapter an update of the animals/birds situation provides further interest.
Doesn't shy away from tackling the larger global questions wildlife film making often raises, but is never 'preachy'.
All the animals and birds are well described and a broader picture of their lives and environments is given. The level of detail is perfect - enough to understand the locations yet still leaves room for your imagination.
It greatly added to the pleasure of the audiobook to know that Mr Aitchison was describing the locations and experiences he had himself undertaken. We all know his excellent film work, but to hear his excitement and enthusiasm about it is infectious and inspiring. Miles better than just reading words on a page.
I also appreciated his subtle and underplayed humor throughout the book.
No specific moment - I was moved and enthused by Mr Aitchisons descriptions of the animals and birds in their natural locations, and his appreciation of wildlife and nature in all its forms.
I think this audiobook adds greatly to the films we all know. It has certainly inspired me to get out and appreciate the natural world and to understand, in a small way, the hardships and cost to family life film makers endure to bring wildlife films to our screens. Highly recommended.
Peace & calm in abundance
- Gillian M.