Some recent nature books

by Charles on December 7, 2018

Interview by Cal Flyn (re-posted from )

There has been a rash of books about epiphanic incursions into wilderness—but the best nature writing digs too into the complexities of our relationship with the natural world, says Charles Foster, the bestselling author of Being A Beast. Here, he discusses the best nature books of 2018.

Last time we spoke, you said the shelves were “groaning” with nature books. Is the genre still thriving?

Well, there are many new titles. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the genre is thriving. Commercial success is rarely a good index of worth. But in fact I think that nature writing is in an increasingly good place—or at least is doing what it should be doing. There’s an increasing acknowledgment that the natural world isn’t all romance and beauty—that the beauty is generated by the sinister Darwinian engine, fuelled by pain, waste, and competition. We see people acknowledging that trees and mountains won’t generate a completely predictable epiphany. That’s very welcome.

There have been lots of breathless accounts of how people’s lives have been transformed by walking into a wood. It’s not really like that, and some of the books we’re about to discuss redress the imbalance created by the breathless transcendentalism that has, I think, characterised the last five to ten years of British nature writing. [click to continue…]


For anyone who can’t be bothered to read all of this post, this is not a defence of homeopathy’s claims of efficacy. Just saying.

The Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (the RCVS is the body charged by statute with regulation of the UK veterinary profession) recently issued a position statement on ‘complementary and alternative therapies, including homeopathy’. It was an outright attack on non-conventional treatment modalities. The whole text of the statement is here

Homeopathy bore the brunt of the attack.

Here is the core of the statement:

‘…we expect that treatments offered by veterinary surgeons are underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles. Veterinary surgeons should not make unproven claims about any treatments, including prophylactic treatments.
Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles. In order to protect animal welfare, we regard such treatments as being complementary rather than alternative to treatments for which there is a recognised evidence base or which are based in sound scientific principles.’

I hold no brief for homeopathy (though I am interested in veterinary acupuncture), but this is a statement of, at best, very remarkable naivety. It is, really, a religious naivety, of the sort you see amongst Young Earth Creationists. [click to continue…]


Lockley’s rules

by Charles on May 3, 2017

Shortly off to Skokholm, to make a serious start on the sea book. And so of course I’m reading Ronald Lockley. He’s magnificent. Here, from ‘The Way to an Island’ (Dent, 1941, pp. 123-124) are his two rules for living (articulated when he’d just left school), along with his comments:

‘[The rules] were simple: just two: (1) Be natural. (2) Be intelligent.
Under Rule (1) I amplified the instruction as follows: ‘Wear as few clothes as possible: rather thick and few than thin as many. Leave off your shoes and socks. Your hair your hat. Wash your body daily. Sleep always in the open air; sleep only to rest. Eat moderately the simplest food. Be happy; there has never been occasion for moroseness.’
And under Rule (2): ‘Appreciate, know, and love the ways of natural life. Speak only words of true meaning. Sneer not, but point out, not the mistakes, but the true way. Be moderate in thought and deed; smile, but do not laugh. Use your life intelligently; do not waste time. Think more and write less. Take sufficient unto the day only; be not over-provident. Harness no creature to the machines of man; it will lose caste.’


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 September 6, 2016

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

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Emotions in the wild

by Charles 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 […]

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Being a Beast talks in the UK

by Charles 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: […]

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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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