Ig Nobel Prize for Biology

by Charles on September 23, 2016

Very pleased to announce that I have won an Ig Nobel Prize for Biology for the work in ‘Being a Beast’.


Baillie Gifford Non-Fiction Prize long list

by Charles on September 21, 2016

Delighted that ‘Being a Beast’ has been long-listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize). There are some wonderful books on the list: I’m not holding my breath.


New York Times Bestseller

by Charles on September 6, 2016

Delighted to announce that ‘Being a Beast’ is a New York Times Bestseller.


Emotions in the wild

by Charles on May 19, 2016

This is an exchange, originally published here on the History of Emotions blog, with Thomas Dixon. Thomas’s questions are in bold italics.

Your experiments in becoming a beast seem to have been motivated by something like E. M. Forster’s motto “Only connect” – but applied to non-human animals. Did you end up feeling that you had connected and, if so, with what?

I would prefer to say that I ended up acknowledging that I was connected.

The opening line of the book is: ‘I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing’. That is a woefully misconceived line. For, whether I like it or not, I am a wild thing. That’s the (trite) Darwinian truth.

My DNA wasn’t forged in a factory. The shape of my psyche was determined by wood, wind and water. Why do we like sitting next to a fire in the winter? It’s not because we see a Dickensian parlour in our sentimental mind’s eye. It’s because our subconscious is happy to know that when the wolf crouched just beyond the light makes its move, we can grab a burning branch and shove it in the wolf’s face.

David Abram points out that there are no non-wild places – just places of relative unwildness. Leave a piece of pie in an inner-city office for a few days, and it’ll be covered with exuberantly wild mould. Your gut is a mass of entirely wild organisms over which you have no control. You depend on their wild fecundity for your thriving and your survival.

So: I am connected to non-human species, whether I like it or not. Many of my defining relationships are with non-human species. We’re much better off noting and accepting the relationships that make us. Nasty things happen if we don’t. Ask Freud.

We have systematically, brutally and disastrously unlearned the languages we need in order to articulate properly our relationships with the non-natural world. The relationships are still there: we’re just painfully constipated when we try to discuss them.

I suspect that all worthwhile knowledge is acquired by anamnesis. And that’s certainly what I was about on the moors and in the woods. I started to unforget my fellowship with the natural world, and unforgot a few words in which to describe that fellowship.
There were moments when old memories flooded in particularly fast. I looked into the eyes of an urban fox. I knew that it knew something about me that I didn’t know, and that it was changed by the encounter. You asked me about connection. Connection entails reciprocity, and that meeting stank muskily of reciprocity. [click to continue…]


Being a Beast talks in the UK

by Charles on April 10, 2016

Currently scheduled 2016 UK talks are:

9 February: Royal Geographical Society
5 March: Words by the Water Festival
10 April: Oxford Literary Festival
23 April: Bristol Festival of Ideas
5 May: Chipping Campden Literary Festival
22 May: Wood Festival
27 May: Greenwich Literary Festival
8 June: Waterstones, Oxford
11 June: Cheltenham Science Festival
19 June: Wealden Literary Festival
31 July: Port Eliot Literary Festival
3 September: World Explorers’ Summit, Cardiff
11 September: Westhill Farm Project, Oxford
12 September: Future of Wild Europe Conference, University of Leeds
17 September: Oxford Alumni Weekend
22 September: London Salon
24 September: Write on Kew Literary Festival
2 October: Crickhowell Literary Festival
30 October: Wantage Literary Festival
12 November: Bridport Literary Festival


Being A Beast will be out in the UK in February 2016 (Profile Books), and in the US in June 2016 (Metropolitan)

by Charles December 17, 2015
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Human dignity in Howard Jacobson’s ‘J: A Novel’

by Charles November 10, 2015

‘J’ is not the title of this novel. The title is ‘J’ with two lines through it, to denote the two fingers that one of the central characters, Kevern Cohen, puts neurotically to his lips whenever he utters the letter ‘J’. For this is a novel about things that are not uttered, and the consequences [...]

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by Charles July 15, 2014

On the shelves in my study there are long rows of small, hard-backed notebooks. Most of them are blue or black, with a red fabric spine. On the spine there are usually some dates, and often some place names: Beirut: 8-9/1993; Danakil: 4/2002; Misc North Africa 4-6/2007; Spitsbergen and North Pole: 2004; Peloponnese, 9/1997. Occasionally [...]

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Travelling with camels: a practical guide

by Charles March 7, 2013

1.         Why use camels? 1.1       The alternatives are feet and vehicles. Vehicles are boring, unreliable and hopeless in mountains and serious sand. Feet cannot carry for any significant distances the food and (particularly) water needed to keep them going. So unless the desert area you are in is not a proper desert, you cannot rely [...]

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Who were the Israelites?

by Charles February 28, 2013

Somehow, sometime, and somewhere, Israel became a people. That meant two different but related things: it meant becoming different from its neighbours, and it meant becoming itself. Often Israelite self-identification was negative: ‘We are Israelite because we are not Philistine’, or ‘We are Israelite because we do not eat pigs’. Sometimes it still is. Neighbours [...]

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