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Being a Beast

Adventures Across the Species Divide

Charles Foster


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ISBN10: 1250132215
ISBN13: 9781250132215

Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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To test the limits of our ability to inhabit lives that are not our own, Charles Foster set out to know the ultimate other: the non-humans, the beasts. And to do that, he tried to be like them, choosing a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer, and a swift. He lived alongside badgers for weeks, sleeping in a sett in a Welsh hillside and eating earthworms, learning to sense the landscape through his nose rather than his eyes. He caught fish in his teeth while swimming like an otter; rooted through London garbage cans as an urban fox; was hunted by bloodhounds as a red deer, nearly dying in the snow. And he followed the swifts on their migration route over the Strait of Gibraltar, discovering himself to be strangely connected to the birds.

A lyrical, intimate, and completely radical look at the life of animals—human and other—Being a Beast mingles neuroscience and psychology, nature writing and memoir to cross the boundaries separating the species. It is an extraordinary journey full of thrills and surprises, humor and joy. And, ultimately, it is an inquiry into the human experience in our world, carried out by exploring the full range of the life around us.


Praise for Being a Beast

“Intensely strange and terrifically vivid . . . An eccentric modern classic of nature writing. It is packed with wriggling pleasures.”—The New York Times

“Spectacularly unconventional . . . A meditative romp that leaves you laughing out loud (and occasionally cursing in anger) even as you soak up the spray of science . . . Steeped in scholarship, yet directed by his own quirky mysticism, Foster brilliantly takes on questions of animal consciousness, cognition, emotion and theory of mind.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A blend of memoir, neuroscience and nature writing . . . that pushes zoological obsession to even greater heights—and depths.”—The Wall Street Journal

“When it comes to wilderness porn, it’s going to be very hard to beat Being a Beast.”—London Evening Standard

“A tour de force of modern nature writing . . . that shows us how to better love the world beyond ourselves.”—The Guardian (UK)

“A highly original attempt to break free from the anthropocentrism that often characterizes nature writing . . . A rich, joyful, and inspiring book.”—The Independent (UK)

Being a Beast is a strange kind of masterpiece: the song of a satyr, perhaps, or nature writing as extreme sport. Foster marks out the distance between us and the beasts in a way that helps sharpen their boundaries and ours—and ours are not always where we think.”—Financial Times (UK)
“Foster wants to be the wild thing, living as wild things live. In Being a Beast, he nearly convinces us that such shape-shifting is possible in the way he lyrically tells his stories—uncensored, intensely descriptive and often hysterical.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“This year’s H is for Hawk, the book leaves you feeling that perhaps Helen MacDonald’s bestseller might have been improved if she had only tried to fly.”—World Travel Guide

“Extraordinary, hair-raising, and deliberately funny . . . Atrophied senses limit our lived experiences. Be a beast, says Foster, to become a better human.”—Maclean’s

“An embed with the animals . . . Foster’s quirky book shows how emulating animals not only helps our understanding of them—it makes us more human.”—People

“A splendid, vivid contribution to the literature of nature . . . Daringly imaginative . . . There’s not an ounce of sentimentality in any of it, but instead good science and hard-nosed thought. Furthermore, Foster has the gift of poetry.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A fascinating exploration . . . His attempts to actually be a beast make this a different sort of wildlife book . . . Ultimately, Foster found reciprocity in his unusual and daring immersion in nature, feeling that he now knows the essence of animals’ lives and is somehow newly known in return.—Booklist (starred review)

“Woven through the lyrical narrative are neuroscience, facts about the creatures, and philosophy . . . This book’s fascinating premise, with its unique perspective of how animals perceive their surroundings, will be of interest to scientists, naturalists, and those who enjoy reading about natural history.”—Library Journal

“An extraordinary account . . . In lesser hands this could come off as trite or patronizing, but Foster is quick to acknowledge his shortcomings and errors in perspective regarding his project, and he projects a healthy sense of humor . . . This approach, along with his willingness to address and avoid the temptation for anthropomorphism, makes his book interesting and informative.”—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Charles Foster

CHARLES FOSTER is a Fellow of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford. He is a qualified veterinarian, teaches medical law and ethics, and is a practicing barrister. Much of his life has been spent on expeditions: he has run a 150-mile race in the Sahara, skied to the North Pole, and suffered injuries in many desolate and beautiful landscapes. He has written on travel, evolutionary biology, natural history, anthropology, and philosophy. His books include Tracking the Ark of the Covenant and The Sacred Journey.

Charles Foster

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