Why Cavafy Matters

by Charles on August 28, 2023

I first came across Cavafy in his own city of Alexandria. I had stumbled in after a long desert trip. I was in a bad way. I’d almost lost my mind, and hoped to find it there. Instead I found an ant-nibbled copy of Cavafy’s poems in a bookshop which also sold stuffed crocodiles. I took the book to a cafe, ordered hibiscus and a hubble-bubble pipe, and started to read.

It nearly finished me off. I wanted to be re-illusioned. But here was a man with no illusions at all. He was more himself than anyone I’d met, with a voice so distinct that you’d hear it if he  whispered among bellowing thousands in a crowd. I wasn’t sure I had a self at all, and if I had a voice I’d stolen it from the latest book or conversation. He’d ransacked graveyards for epigraphs and epitaphs, but they’d become his and him as nothing that I called my own was mine. He knew that one day he’d be known as a great poet, and didn’t care if he died first. I expected obscurity, and death seemed significant. And his hubris!  He made old gods sing about the orgasmic thrashings of his lover’s limbs, and I worried about thunderbolts as I read him. He had the poise and self-possession of a kouros, but without even the hint of an archaic smile. There was nothing playful about him: he was deadly serious. I thought it deadly to be serious, but he was terribly alive as I was not.

He was the worst possible company. I threw the book into the sea. [click to continue…]


Cry of the Wild

by Charles on May 4, 2023

Cry of the Wild is now out. It’s my attempt to show what it feels like for eight species – orca, fox, otter, rabbit, gannet, eel, mayfly and human (yes, human) to live alongside us. Writing it has been a thrilling and disturbing journey.

Many thanks to my brilliant editor at Transworld, Alex Christofi, and to the many others who have believed in this book.


Delighted that my very strange novel about Greece, Greekness, and the long reach of Poseidon has been long-listed for the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award.

Some kind things people have said about it:

Brilliantly original-  a strange and elegant triumph.

Evie Wyld

Because the story of a life is the story of the lives that intersect with it, A Little Brown Sea broadens the scope of the novel to encompass the beings with which we share this planet and without which we cannot be fully ourselves. Charles Foster, working out in fiction the concerns that inform his remarkable non-fiction, combines here the curiosity of the scientist with the heart of a storyteller. I loved this aphoristic, argumentative and form-stretching novel, and hope others will let it mess with their heads.

Gregory Norminton

The fragmented polyphony of Charles Foster’s astonishingly ambitious and highly experimental debut novel, A Little Brown Sea, expresses the essential tohuwabohu of the human condition and provides a vehicle for the exploration of ‘ultimate questions’ of meaning and purpose, particularly in relation to the human encounter with self and the natural world.  The maverick spirit and boundary-breaking hybridity of the novel reflects similar qualities in Foster’s celebrated philosophical enquiries Being a Beast and Being a Human, confirming him as one of the most singular and important—both playful and profound—voices of our time.

Steve Ely


The citation reads (very kindly, from James Parker – thank you so much):

‘Where to start with Charles Foster? How about with a big fat quote from Being a Human? “What keeps brains effective and their owners alive in times of trouble is promiscuous intellectual cross-fertilisation between different domains of one’s own brain, and between the brains of oneself and others. The Neanderthals had neither, and so they died out, victims not, probably, of homicidal Homo sapiens but of cognitive sclerosis.” And then how about following it with another one? “The wood is mourning-band black, with a thorny back. As I push open the iron gate that leads in, the wood stops breathing and starts watching. It has frozen, with one forepaw held in the air.” Being a Human, like Being a Beast, the (also extraordinary) book that preceded it, is both a learned treatise and a kind of visionary journalism; it reports back from the edges of our cramped consciousness, where so much of what keeps us alive (poetry, music, myth, God) is currently making its home. In search of who we are, pursuing his own brand of gonzo neurobiology, Foster flings himself physically into various inhospitable corners of the English countryside—caves, bushes, piles of wet leaves—depriving himself of everyday comforts that his perceptions may be cleansed. And so they are.’


Being a Human

by Charles on September 17, 2021

Being a Human: Adventures in 40,000 years of consciousness is now out, published by Profile in the UK and Metropolitan in the US. It tries to answer the question ‘What sort of creature is a human?’, and it took me to some very strange places.


Wainwright Prize Shortlist

by Charles August 5, 2021

Thrilled and honoured and humbled to announce that ‘The Screaming Sky’ has been shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2021.

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The Screaming Sky

by Charles April 24, 2021

The Screaming Sky, my account of my long-standing obsession with swifts, has been published by the splendid Little Toller. It’s magnificently illustrated by Jonathan Pomroy, who understands better than anyone on the planet how swifts move.

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Why Father Brown is better than Sherlock Holmes

by Charles January 11, 2021

[First published on the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog] Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has issued proceedings, complaining that Enola Holmes, a recently released film about Sherlock Holmes’ sister, portrays the great detective as too emotional. Sherlock Holmes was famously suspicious of emotions. 1 ‘ [L]ove is an emotional thing’, he icily observed, ‘and whatever […]

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What’s the point of University (or any) education?

by Charles May 21, 2019

I’m an academic at the University of Oxford. At the moment Oxford is full of nervous, be-gowned students doing their exams. They’re all concerned about getting a good degree. But why? I’m copying below a blog post of mine from a few years back, originally published on the University of Oxford Practical Ethics website. My […]

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Strange friends on the Dark Mountain?

by Charles April 4, 2019

The Dark Mountain Manifesto has been formative for me. It seems churlish – indeed nearly patricidal – to criticise it. But I’ve lived with it now for long enough to see it more clearly than I did, and I am uneasy now about some of it. It is not Kingsnorth’s and Hine’s delight in apocalypse […]

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