In 1952, David Attenborough joined the BBC Television Service’s Talks Department, a catchall division for the embryonic network’s nonfiction programming. The equipment was clunky, the shows were live, and the possibilities—and potential failures—seemed limitless. He soon helped to define the nature documentary as an exemplary producer and filmmaker.
Two new books from Princeton University Press chronicle Attenborough’s work on both sides of the TV camera. Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster ($29.95) is an engaging account of a career spanning five decades and spawning such renowned works as The Life of Birds and The Private Life of Plants. And The Life of Mammals ($29.95) is a beautifully illustrated companion to his latest series (airing on the Discovery Channel May 8 and 9), which examines how climate and diet influence the development of the animals around us.
Images: Tent-making bats roosting under a leaf; Attenborough (third primate from left) with feathered and jacketed colleagues; Malayan tapir and calf; a serval cat leaping at a bird.