'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 10 September 2015

Review: Venom Doc

Bryan Grieg Fry is a venomologist. He loves all things to do with poison and poisonous animals, and his work has taken him to over 50 countries. He's handled venomous water shrews in Siberia, giant octopuses in Antarctica, vampire bats in the Amazon, and king cobras in Malaysia.

He's been bitten by 26 venomous snakes, been stung by three stingrays, and survived a near-fatal scorpion sting in the Amazon jungle. He's also broken 23 bones, including his back in three places, and had to learn to walk again.

Clearly, he's crazy! But he's also brilliant and his research has contributed not only to a greater understanding of some of the world's most intriguing animals (he has completely reshaped scientific thinking on how komodo dragons kill their prey, for example) but has also led to breakthroughs in how different types of venom can be used to develop drugs to treat diabetes and high blood pressure. Along the way he's appeared in over 70 documentaries for Animal Planet, the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

His story is fascinating. From his childhood, Fry was obsessed with snakes and lizards. He was never happier than when creeping barefoot through the Florida landscape hunting for more reptiles. His parents could have discouraged this obsession, but they tolerated it, allowing him to keep snakes as pets. He has kept single-mindedly following his passion, studying molecular biology and scientific philosophy at university before embarking on a research career that has seen him win numerous fellowships, write groundbreaking papers, and experience more adventure and adrenaline-pumping excitement than I would have believed possible for a man still only in his forties.

If ever anyone needed encouragement to follow their dreams and stay true to their passions (no matter how 'weird' or unusual others might think they are), they'll find it in this book. Yes, there are drug references and some colourful language (Fry is a scientific genius not a saint, and this book is primarily written for an adult audience), but I would still recommend Venom Doc to any older teen with an interest in science. We need to encourage the unusual thinkers, the kids who have the 'out there' ideas, the ones who question and challenge, because they are the ones who often make the innovations and breakthroughs that shape society. There's no better example of this than the Venom Doc himself!

Title: Venom Doc: The edgiest, darkest and strangest natural history memoir ever
Author: Bryan Grieg Fry
Publisher: Hachette, $32.99 RRP
Publication Date: September 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780733634222
For ages: 16+
Type: Non-Fiction