Being A Beast

Being A Beast

Adventures Across the Species Divide

Book - 2016
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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 nonhumans. To do that, he chose five animals and lived alongside them, sleeping as they slept, eating what they ate, learning to sense the landscape through the senses they used. In this lyrical, intimate, and completely radical look at the lives of animals, Charles Foster mingles neuroscience and psychology, nature writing and memoir, and ultimately presents an inquiry into the human experience in our world, carried out by exploring the full range of the life around us.
Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781627796330
Branch Call Number: 591.5 FOSTER
Characteristics: 235 pages ; 22 cm


From the critics

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Dec 20, 2016

Don't know what kind of critter this is, covered with leaves and mud and worms and anecdotes and philosophizing. Kind of cute, but don't bring it home.

Nicr Nov 17, 2016

Obsessive, odd, eccentric, erudite and humorous, a deeply personal account by a naturalist of what it's like to live (as nearly as possible) as a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer and a swift.

Oct 08, 2016

UK centric. Perhaps this passes for a nature book there, but not here. The author is neither a scientist, nor an author, unfortunately. Full of conceit, written by an unapologetic dyed in the wool hunter.

SPL_Robyn Sep 06, 2016

Reviewed in the Stratford Gazette Sept 2016.

Aug 10, 2016

Silly. No, ridiculous. Verbose.


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SPL_Robyn Sep 06, 2016

Not everyone would choose to do what Charles Foster chose to do in his pursuit of realizing the depth of his own connection to the natural world:
• Scavenge for food with urban foxes
• Eat earthworms in a badger sett
• Face starvation with red deer
• Swim a cold English river for nights on end
• Follow swifts from Oxford to Africa (albeit through ground-travel, not air)

Foster is part scientist, part philosopher and a fully qualified veterinarian. Although he tries to eschew the type of nature writing stemming from a type of colonialism – man’s dominion over the sea, air, earth and creatures who live there - he is very quick to realize, as he is tucked into a cold, damp burrow for the night with earthworms falling disconcertingly into his mouth at intervals, that he really is “dismally suburban”.

These confessions of his own shortcomings make his writing quite human and funny, but are just as thoughtful as the observations he develops as he imitates his chosen few animals. He rarely anthropomorphizes the animals he encounters, and yet his descriptions of their habits and expressions are not cold and clinical either. For instance he explains the science behind how a fox uses the earth’s magnetic fields to hunt but describes it rather poetically: “That’s what foxes do... one spotlight is sound, and the other is magnetic, and the release is an explosive unfolding of hamstrings and about a hundred other muscles filled with blood, lymph and hunger.”

He in fact spends more time on all fours to see and smell and perceive the world as animals do – he shares facts about each species as conversationally as he does neurobiology facts (why they do what they do) and philosophical ponderings about their levels of consciousness. Being a Beast is a fascinating read for any lover of nature. Foster has a deep love of the animals he studies but is a slightly madder (in the nicest possible way) version of James Herriot.

Find Being a Beast at the Stratford Public Library or as either an e-book or e-audiobook at


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