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 views haven’t mellowed since it was originally written. Far from it.

Here it is….

Several times this term I’ve staggered out onto Oxford station, cramped and queasy from Cattle Class, and seen packs of sleek suits ooze out of First Class, briefcases in their hands and predatory gleams in their eyes. ‘Let’s go hunting’, one floppy-haired account manager said to his confederates. They climbed into cabs, which they saw as safari Land Rovers heading to the bush, and went off to a panelled room in some college. [click to continue…]


Strange friends on the Dark Mountain?

by Charles on 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 that troubles me. That is a matter of taste and, probably, nerve. I simply don’t have their courage. I can’t bear to look sufficiently hard at the future to describe it as explicitly as they do. Nor is it their despair. That is a matter of judgment (and theirs is probably better than mine) and temperament. It is, rather, their identification of friends and enemies.

There are, if one is to believe the Manifesto, precious few friends. That, indeed, is part of the Manifesto’s and the movement’s appeal. We are the Faithful (or, better, Faithless) Remnant: the Chosen Few – Chosen because we have remained un-chosen by the Machine on account of our empathy, our independence, our unkempt hair, and the smell of wood-smoke clinging to our jumpers: the clear-sighted, undeluded elite, unseduced by the blandishments of hope or comfort: the seeds from which new life will spring when the fire is out. It’s all very flattering. That’s the only sort of club I want to join. [click to continue…]


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 rapport with nature also enjoy killing things?

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Some recent nature books

by Charles on 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.

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 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 […]

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Ig Nobel Prize for Biology

by Charles September 23, 2016

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

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Baillie Gifford Non-Fiction Prize long list

by Charles 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.

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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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