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.’

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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.

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Wainwright Prize Shortlist

by Charles on 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 on 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 on 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 is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. ‘2 “I am a brain’, he told Watson. ‘The rest of me is a mere appendix’.3

I can imagine that many professional scientists and philosophers would feel affronted if they were accused of being emotional animals. Holmes is a model for them. He’s rigorous, empirical, and relies on induction.

But here’s the thing. He’s not actually very good. Mere brains might be good at anticipating the behaviour of mere brains, but they’re not good for much else. In particular Holmes is not a patch on his rival, Chesterton’s Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest. Gramsci writes that Brown ‘totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness.’ 4 Brown is faster, more efficient, and, for the criminal, deadlier. This is because, not despite, his use of his emotions. [click to continue…]

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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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BBC Radio 4 programme on violence in nature writing

by Charles January 10, 2019

I recently presented a programme for BBC Radio 4 entitled ‘Tooth and Claw’. A link to the programme is here It made it onto ‘Pick of the Week’. It was brilliantly produced by Michael Umney, and a joy to make. It examines a conundrum that has long interested me: how can someone with a clairvoyant […]

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Some recent nature books

by Charles December 7, 2018

Interview by Cal Flyn (re-posted from https://fivebooks.com ) 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. […]

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Veterinary homeopathy and the naivety of reductionists

by Charles February 1, 2018

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 […]

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