Bookmonger: Suzuki reflects on life in ‘Letters to My Grandchildren’

Letters to My Grandchildren ”

By David Suzuki

I know that mop of glorious hair atop David Suzuki’s head has been getting progressively snowier, but it’s still hard to believe that the eminent Canadian scientist is 79 years old. That said, the man sure hasn’t slowed down much.

At the beginning of June, he interrupted a 12-city North American tour promoting his newest book, “Letters to My Grandchildren,” with a different 12-stop tour around British Columbia promoting coastal connections. By mid-June, he’ll be back on his book tour. The pace he keeps is motivated by his sense of urgency about the future for this planet – the tiny “blue dot” that currently supports over seven billion people, not to mention all the other forms of life.

Considering Suzuki’s background as a geneticist and environmentalist, it is no surprise that much of this book dwells on the vexing challenges of population growth, environmental degradation, species extinction and climate change.

But “Letters to My Grandchildren” is also a deeply personal reflection on Suzuki’s eight decades’ worth of life experience, and he devotes many pages to his ancestry and what his own family went through as he was growing up. Despite the economic hardships of the Great Depression and the institutionalized bigotry toward people of Japanese ancestry during the World War II era, Suzuki remembers his childhood fondly. He credits his parents for making his siblings and him feel loved and secure, and for teaching them that “the environment around us was a constant source of wonder and joy.”

Now as a father and grandfather himself, he is conveying his parents’ core values of hard work, sharing and living within one’s means.

But experiences in his adult life – as a scientist, professor and broadcaster (he is probably best known for hosting the award-winning science series, ‘The Nature of Things,” for over three decades) – led him to develop additional skills as well as important new perspectives. And this moves him to exhort his offspring to lead lives of conviction and activism.

In separate chapters, Suzuki addresses each of his grandchildren individually. They range in age from infant to adult, so the advice veers accordingly, from general platitudes to specific counsel.

Readers may take issue with some of this. One of Suzuki’s grandsons is disabled, and the geneticist/grandfather grapples with this, but not always gracefully. And Suzuki’s sole granddaughter is the only one who gets advice on birth control. (Doesn’t Suzuki, who worries about overpopulation but is himself the father of five, realize that men should get the memo, too?)

Most readers will probably feel that the best value comes in the latter half of the book, where Suzuki devotes a clutch of chapters to incisive assessments of the state of the world. He paints a very sobering picture of shortsighted policies, bungled opportunities and degraded environment, but he also places great store in the potential of grassroots advocacy. And of all the advice in this book, that may be the best: if you care about something, get involved!

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. For more entertainment, go to BellinghamHerald.com/entertainment.