Thursday, January 13, 2005

BOOK REVIEW - A Venomous Life

Many thanks to David Haddock of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, who sends us this review...
A Venomous Life by Struan K. Sutherland

This is the autobiography of the expert that Douglas and Mark consult in Australia before they go to Komodo. When asked what to do if someone is bitten by a deadly snake in the book it says "he blinked at me as if I were stupid. 'Well what do you think you do? he said. 'You die of course. That's what deadly means.'"

It seems to have been written in somewhat of a hurry after Professor Sutherland was diagnosed with a degenerative illness, and for an authobiography, actually has very little about his family, apart from his ancestors. His three wives get very little mention, and in fact his third does not even get a name check. The focus of the book, after an entertaining look at his youth, education and naval service, is on his work at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL). Not for the squeamish it details a variety of venomous creature incidents, including a bite on an unfortunate fellow's "organ of generation", as well as various deaths that were the driving force behind his quest for antidotes. It also discusses the experiments that were required to develop the snake bite detector kit and the antivenoms, although Sutherland and his team spent considerable effort in devising techniques that reduced the need for animal experimentation, especially in assaying the toxicity levels of various venoms. It also details the run-ins with the CSL management when he considered them to be obstructing his work and putting lives in danger - including the infamous paper-clip incident - and the circumstances of his eventually departure.

In Last Chance to See, Mark and Douglas record that at the end of their meeting with the then Dr Sutherland he was talking about how he hated all poisonous animals. In the first edition the conversation concludes with him being asked if there was any venomous creature that he did like and he replies "There was, but she left me." This apparently caused the Doctor some embarrassment when it was published so in the paperback edition the question is changed to "Is there anything you do like?" and the response to; "Hydroponics". Hydroponics was not actually a topic his was paid to research, but just a hobby for Sutherland. However, he did write a book, Hydroponics for Everyone, to go with his textbooks Australian Animal Toxins and Venomous creatures of Australia, and his children's book Take Care!: Poisonous Australian Animals.

The book stops at an upbeat note on 15th June 1998 with the Australian Venom Research Unit that he helped create at the University of Melbourne after leaving CSL, up, running, funded and with his successor in place. Professor Sutherland died on 11 January 2002, and was posthumously made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 2002 Australia Day Honours.
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A Venomous Life
Struan Keith Sutherland
(AO, MD DSc FRACP FRCPA FACTM)
UK Edition                       US Edition
Hyland House Publishing (1999)
ISBN: 1864470267