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I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing This book is bonkers Charles Foster, a veterinarian and barrister among other occupations, explains his frustration with traditional nature writing, saying that it hasgenerally been about humans striding colonially around, describing what they see from six feet above the groundSo he decides to get down and dirty He proceeds to experience the world as a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer and a swift Being a Beast is the chronicle of his madcap adventures.And he doesn t do things by halves In the book s longest chapter, his pal Burt digs out a chunk of a hill with a JCB Foster and his young son Tom spend the six next weeks in this makeshift sett, living a badger s life They venture out to eat worms and crawl through the forest undergrowth, sniffing vigorously as they go In the Otter section Foster lies in a Devon river for hours at a time, trying to grab fish with his teeth He mimics the urban fox by laying still in London parks and back gardens, and rifling through bins for leftover pizza.Eccentric he may be, but this guy can really write He describes badger setts astangled labyrinths which hollow out the hill so that it would ring like a bodhr n if one of the dark gods stampedHe tells of a moor that bleeds into a riverA red earth cloud billows out like blood in a pub toilet after a fightAnd I loved his account of a storm during the badger episodeOur sett was cradled in the interlocking fingers of tree roots beech on either side, oak from above The whole wood bent to the wind There was no overground or underground it was all just ground We rocked in our cradle, the roots above us straining and creaking like the timbers of a rolling shipI have mixed feelings about the book overall Foster veers off on too many tangents for my liking and I didn t enjoy his tendency to stray into shamanist territory But his passion for animals and the wild is abundantly clear, and beautifully documented If you re tired of conventional nature writing that is composed from the comfort of a desk or a camera lens, give this strange and beguiling book a try. I almost never DNF a book, and if I did I normally wouldn t want to rate it because I would think it unfair, but having suffered through 100 pages of this, and found so much of it verging on offensive, I just can t help myself.Perhaps it was a mistake for me to even pick this up, since the concept alone had my eyes ready to roll, but it was such a strange and intriguing notion that I had to give it a go Alas, my back was up from the very opening when he professed to having been a boastful trophy hunter and contributor to a hunting magazine for many years So began a slippery slope that proved every one of my fears about this book to be true.I m sorry to break it to Foster, but you can t possibly understand what it s like to be a badger just because you ve eaten worms and lived in a hole for a while especially when you dug it using a JCB It was downright laughable when he tried to excuse accepting the likes of fish pie, lasagne and chorizo from a friend whilst living wild because badgers are opportunistic animals that wouldn t turn down a free mealPropping a badger s skull on a stick for no good reason and filling his home with taxidermy doesn t exactly convince me that he s learned compassion for animals, and the fact that he dragged his eight year old son into this madness was also somewhat disturbing I was infuriated when he himself or less said the boy was starting to become slightly feral by the end and didn t stop sneezing blood for a week because he inhaled so much dust whilst living underground.When the section on otters opened with him unashamedly saying he doesn t even like them, before having his children defecate outside and hold a sniffing contest to compare faeces, I had to call it a day with this lunacy It reeks if you ll pardon the pun of someone who is desperate to prove how quirky they are, relying on ridiculous shock factor behaviour to draw people in.I m all for the concept of learning about other species so that we may better understand human beings, but this is pretentious waffle dressed up with frilly writing to fool us into thinking that s what it s about Watch any documentary that David Attenborough has made throughout his career and not only will it be far interesting, enlightening, factual and entertaining, but it will teach you a heck of a lot about understanding and empathising with animals than this ever will In fact, go and read one of the Beatrix Potter books he so clearly demonises as well they have 100x heart, not to mention a far greater amount of respect for animals in them than this book And breathe New paragraph added to the end of my original review I never trusted this guy Early on I was swept up in his language and his voice, and began to ask myself Is this brilliant Am I listening to a work of genius here Because the audiobook was great on one level Foster kind of sounds like Neil Gaiman, and I was tricked into thinking there might be profundity here I recently listened to countless hours of Gaiman s View From the Cheap Seats as he read about sci fi writers and graphic illustrators whom I couldn t care less about, because he reads everything as if it s a fairy tale and I d fallen under his spell But when I attended closely to Foster s words, rather than his voice, I began to have serious doubts I grew to dislike him intensely and become upset with the book and his insidious rhetoric that concealed his human centered biases He s not saying what it seems He s making shit up just to be lofty or beastly His project is ill conceived He s frequently revolting, just to be gross His stories of hunting were so disturbing I had to fast forward And what s with all the shaman crap Not that shamanism is crap but that he was probably misusing it His contempt for some animals was shocking in light of his project He thinks that otters are just nasty little furry worms and he states that even before trying to be an otter And CATS Not only does he hate domestic cats, he wishes other predators would exterminate them, and he describes a scene in which he chases and torments a cat The cat kind of wins, though He s being human through and through, not a fox or whatever the hell he was pretending to be He says he s trying not to anthropomorphize, but he cannot truly extinguish his human senses, not to mention his neocortex or bad sense of humor I don t know why I didn t think of Thomas Nagel while reading this, but it took Chuck Klosterman to remind me of Nagel s important essay What Is It Like to Be a Bat Here is CK s pr cis of Nagel s argument Nagel asks if it s possible for people to conceive what it s like to be a bat, and his conclusion is that it probably is not we can only conceive what it would be like to be a human who was a bat For example, bats use echolocation sonar to know what s in front of them It s not difficult to imagine humans having echolocation sonar and how that would help us walk through a pitch black room That experience can be visualized But what we can t understand is how that experience informs the consciousness of a bat We can t even assess what level of consciousness a bat possesses, since the only available barometer for consciousness is our own. The interior life of a bat or an octopus, or any nonhuman creature is beyond our capacity Italics mine This speaks to what I meant when I said I thought Foster s project was ill conceived By mimicking the mechanics of a badger or a swift burrowing or flying he thinks he can know what they think He guesses at what they feel sentience but he cannot answer the consciousness question I m glad that human beings are finally admitting that we don t can t know everything about the consciousness of other life forms, and the questions have been asked by philosophers for centuries, for all time The science is getting interesting, but logic tells me there will always be that gulf Maybe shamanism can cross it, but that s not science, and Foster s book was messy conflation of the two I assume and hope that the answer to Frans de Waal s question, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are , is no. If you love philosophy or mysticism related to animals , please disregard my review I m sorry but this book left me completely disappointed and made me feel like I wasted my time I got this book because I though it would be filled with scientific research helped along by the method of cohabitation with the animals that were being explored by the author , but what I got was a write who thinks too highly of himself spouting cheap philosophical musings that have little to do with animals , mixed in with a rhetoric that didn t make sense the you read on , I tough the act of Lying on the floor eating garbage to get to know the animals who do that could be saved by the scientific research attached to it , but since there Is no scientist method at all being observed In this book , all I got was a man eating garbage in the floor because he thinks it makes him closer to urban animals Extrapolate your conclusions from there.. DNF ing this as it just felt really pretentious to me and I wasn t feeling like I wanted to read it or as if I would actually get anything from it Oh well. Have you ever wondered just what it would be like to be an eagle soaring on thermals or a stag surveying your territory Some of us may have whilst walking in the countryside or over a contemplative drink, but Charles Foster wanted to know what it was like Really, really wanted to know So he chose five different animals swift, deer, fox, otter and badger, and would try to live their lives as best he could.He spent six weeks with his son living as a badger inside a hill in Wales in a sett that a friend of his with a JCB had excavated His friend would leave meals for them to scavenge but they went for it, eating earthworms and other things that the forest provided, trying to move around on all fours to get a badger s eye view of the woods they were in Trying to mimic what an otter does, meant that he spent quite a while splashing around in rivers failing to catch fish, and leaving his own spraints along the banks Living as an urban fox was easier, sleeping rough in back gardens and scavenging for food in bins, but it did nearly get him arrested He spends time deep in woods being a deer, imagining what it would be like to be tracked by hounds Becoming a swift was possibly the hardest, as flying unaided has evaded humans., but he did have a go with a parachute to get a feel of the wind in his hair, and the flies in his teeth The human view of the world has some parallels to these creatures we share the same senses sight, smell, taste and sound, but their adaption has made them specialists in very particular ways, enhancing their senses so that they survive and thrive This book is very different to the usual ones that you will read on wildlife By making the effort to see things from the animal point of view, he has given us a very, very different perspective on the natural world That and he is a little bit mad But it works drawing on neuroscience and psychology his efforts to emulate the lives of the five animals, give him an insight to their daily struggle for survival There are some amusing moments, and there were parts that I found revolting but it was refreshing to read something with a very different perspective to the usual natural history books 3.5 stars overall. This book and I hesitate to box it in with so insipid sounding a genre as nature writing is crazy beautiful A stunning, vertiginous, odd, outrageous, academically rich, and personally challenging work.Charles Foster a vet and academic takes us on a mind altering, shamanistic, trip into the wild as he sets out to discover as far as the limits of the human mind and body will allow what it is to be a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer, and a swift Foster packs his analytical toolbox with probes and scalpels forged in neuroscience, biology, sociology, mythology and anthropology and takes us on a journey rich with insight and learning I learned how far a swift might fly in its brief lifetime 2.6 times the distance to the moon over twenty one years , the difference in sociability and behaviour between badgers where wolves still predate them and those where wolves have long since disappeared from the landscape, and how a fox calibrates the intersection between the earth s magnetic field and the resonance of its prey s muffled movements to calculate its hunting leap in an explosive unfolding of hamstrings and about a hundred or so other muscles filled with blood, lymph and hunger But for all these contemporary academic resources and findings, he s interested in piercing the veil and trying to enter into the experience, and even the inner life, of these creaturely others To be a badger, he and one of his sons live underground and go on all fours through a forest for weeks, eating worms and sheltering from storms He scavenges the dustbins of London s East End and sleeps in drains and hedges before being moved on by police to be an urban fox He sojourns Scotland s highlands and is hunted by bloodhounds to be a deer Swims and scrambles England s rivers by night as an otter Obsessively traces the path of the swifts between England and Africa.Although deeply odd, often disturbing, and occasionally deranged, the resulting work is a meditation on humanness, our need for the wild, and the deep toll civilisation exacts from us all in return for its undeniable gifts Foster lovingly brings to speech the glory and wonder and strangeness of our animal companions whose flourishing we need to be truly human, and whose continued existence is increasingly bound up in the choices we, who are so often alienated from soil and sky and stillness, make And not just their strangeness, but our mutual relatedness I and Thou but also Us.He acknowledges the limitations of his work and openly often gleefully owns up to what we may know, what we don t know, and what we may never know about the lives and consciousness of his animal interlocuters, constantly probing as well at how much and indeed whether at all we are truly able to know our own kind, or even our own selves For example, he postulates, a strong if ambiguously accessible inner life for badgers While of otters, jangling, snarling, roaming, twitching bundles of ADHD he writes, There are no prolonged ascents or descents in an otter s life, because there is no prolonged anything These animals inhabit the instant, but not in a way that redeems it There is a wretched, desperate, hypertensive, hungry moment Then there is another such moment And another The dots are not connected, in that flattened head, to form a personality Anxiety, when it is severe, erodes the self If it is constitutional it precludes a self Otters are circuit boards There s nothing else there.Foster strains language with a marvellous intensity He piles metaphors up one upon another, presses nouns into new and evocative service as verbs, stretches description synaesthetically into our less utilised senses He pitches us into what he thinks, imagines, or hopes might be the savour of actually being that other beast, rather than our beastly selves Their experience of time Of emotions such as fear, joy, grief and anxiety The way velocity shapes the world The significance of sensing with ears and noses and mouths and whiskers and internal magnetically sensitive compasses than with eyes.When I raised my head I could see bats flickering in and out of the lacework of the oaks, and a barn owl ghosting over the walls in the field across the river, and wood pigeons settling fussily in for the night These had no place in the badger s night Badgers trade these airy pleasures for darker, stickier, mucousy, damper, rougher pleasures Dropping my head was like going from Schubert in the conservatoire to a candle lit bordello where you wade through beer to the bed If I had to pick one word for the badger s experience, it would be intimate Grass and bracken stems brush your face When you re forcing a new path, every step is like a birth Water shudders off grass into your eyes Things slide away Slide hop rush You don t just absorb the world you make it You make the fear that rustles away on every side.And he does all this with a brash vigour and playful verve that often left me gasping or laughing out loud He is a very funny writer.Earthworms taste of slime and the land They are the ultimate local food, and as the wine people would say, have a very distinct terroir Worms from Chablis have a long, mineral finish Worms from Picardy are musty they taste of decay and splintered wood Worms from the high Kent Weald are fresh and uncomplicated they d appear in the list recommended with a grilled sole Worms from the Somerset Levels have a stolid, unfashionable taste of leather and stout But the worms of the Welsh Black Mountains are hard to place they would be a serious challenge on a blind tasting I m not quite pretentious enough to have a go at describing them.Foster is clearly a hippy who was taken his love of nature entirely too far An academic whose full immersion study has unhinged him A mystic who spends an unhealthy amount of time with shit observing it, smelling it, depositing it and sometimes leaves you wondering how much of what he has written comes from the same source.I m so glad to have read this book It s a call to live richly, to love and be loved by, the land which is home to me and all my fellow creatures While I might never want to be a beast the way Foster clearly does, I ll happily learn the paths towards a richer, fuller, simpler way of living in the world, in my place, and among God s much loved creatures, receiving them as the gift they are Learn old tunes eat food that comes from where you are Sit in the corner of a field, hearing Put in wax earplugs, close your eyes and smell Sniff everything, wherever you are turn on those olfactory centres Say, with St Francis, Hello, brother ox , and mean it. &READ KINDLE ⇲ Being A Beast ✙ Charles Foster Wanted To Know What It Was Like To Be A Beast A Badger, An Otter, A Deer, A Fox, A Swift What It Was Really Like And Through Knowing What It Was Like He Wanted To Get Down And Grapple With The Beast In Us All So He Tried It Out He Lived Life As A Badger For Six Weeks, Sleeping In A Dirt Hole And Eating Earthworms, He Came Face To Face With Shrimps As He Lived Like An Otter And He Spent Hours Curled Up In A Back Garden In East London And Rooting In Bins Like An Urban Fox A Passionate Naturalist, Foster Realises That Every Creature Creates A Different World In Its Brain And Lives In That World As Humans, We Share Sensory Outputs, Lights, Smells And Sound, But Trying To Explore What It Is Actually Like To Live In Another Of These Worlds, Belonging To Another Species, Is A Fascinating And Unique Neuro Scientific Challenge For Foster It Is Also A Literary Challenge Looking At What Science Can Tell Us About What Happens In A Fox S Or Badger S Brain When It Picks Up A Scent, He Then Uses This To Imagine Their World For Us, To Write It Through Their Eyes Or Rather Through The Eyes Of Charles The Beast An Intimate Look At The Life Of Animals, Neuroscience, Psychology, Nature Writing, Memoir And , It Is A Journey Of Extraordinary Thrills And Surprises, Containing Wonderful Moments Of Humour And Joy, But Also Providing Important Lessons For All Of Us Who Share Life On This Precious Planet I really wanted to like this I appreciated the idea of trying to be a beast by living and behaving as particular animals do But it just didn t work out The opening is promising, the badger chapter Charles lives in a badger sett and crawls around on all fours and tries to orient himself mostly by smell He eats worms He muses on the nature and relationships of badgers to their environment in a philosophical way.Unfortunately it s all downhill from there The literal being a beast experiments take a back seat to both facts on the featured animals foxes, otters, red deer, swifts and philosophical musings Charles writes in a flowery way and includes a lot of himself and his biases in the book unashamedly, I d say And I m into that when I m getting what I signed up for But in the later chapters, the book may as well have been titled Not Being a Beast But Let Me Tell You a Related Anecdote The chapter on swifts contains only passing mentions of attempting to be one Fair enough, it s not possible pick something else then Ditto with otters, whose chapter should have been titled Why I Dislike Otters.I feel bad rating it so low as it is written proficiently, and is quite personal I ve nothing against his personal musings, they were often interesting It just doesn t do what it says on the tin. This is undoubtedly one of the strangest literary journeys on which I ve ever embarked, and after finishing this book, I m left feeling both strangely inspired and noticeably annoyed There are parts of this book I wholly disagree with, based on my own knowledge of the wild animals in question, and based on my own experiences with them E.g Foster s chapter on otters seems wholly misinformed, short sighted, small in scope, and wholly misrepresentation of otters as a whole He s dealing with a very specific river otter in a very specific region of the world, and his truths about them should be taken with a vat of salt I ve seen otters play, exhibit wit and cunning, and be altogether amusing and ingenious creatures There are parts of this book that are beautiful and interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the chapters on foxes and swifts, though I m left thinking that s due in large part to particularly enjoying foxes and swifts in general, and not necessarily due to any true gift of Foster s There are also far too many parts of this book that feel wholly doused in upper middle class white privilege e.g sleeping on private property while appearing both homeless and slightly crazed, and having a conversation with a police officer wherein the author feels safe enough to be a sarcastic smart ass, and wherein if that had been a minority person, or even someone of lesser class status especially in the U.S they would have been arrested, or worse One could argue the entire premise of this book is the product of upper middle class white privilege disenchantment ennui And that s pretty gross I don t like the pretentious, WASPy parts of the book at all and oh, there are many I don t like the part of the book where, in his attempt to be like x, y, z wild animal, the author himself engages and instructs his children to engage in unsustainable, detrimental, and altogether poor outdoor wilderness ethics e.g instructing his children to take literal shits next to a flowing, functioning river Foster either seemingly doesn t understand Leave No Trace, and or doesn t care doesn t think it applies to him and his mighty journey into the great unknown of becoming a beast I happen to care a great deal about people traipsing out into the natural world and being completely idiotic about the type of footprints they leave and the type of long term damage they could do I also don t for a second believe love has to be reciprocal to be felt, especially when it come to wilderness, and wild animals Which is the final, strange premise with which Foster closes this book Parents can love an unborn child for a great deal of time before that child can even think about loving them back Humans all over the globe can love other people that don t love them back, not yet and not ever I can love each and every fox I see, and I do my heart verily skips each time, and I feel an instant and intense sense of kinship and adoration for them while completely understanding foxes, both individually and collectively, care nothing for me, and nor should they, save for taking care to steer clear of humans sometimes driving vehicles like me who might do irreparable damage to them, either accidentally or wholly intentionally The one piece of Foster s book and his misguided but potentially well intentioned process in writing it that stands true and valid to me There is a worth in seeking to see parts of this world from other vantages, no matter how literal and bizarre, in seeking to view our natural and contrived worlds via altogether other points of view He did that I just don t think he was altogether too successful And maybe that s the entire point Maybe some points of view just exist outside of our tangible purview, and that s than okay it s necessary Inspired to tell better stories, to do better by our wild creatures, and to learn much about foxes, swifts, otters, badgers, and all the rest Two stars for foxes and for swifts, and for thinking outside the box, however misguided, pretentious, and WASPy the thinking may have been.