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Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,211 ratings  ·  253 reviews
Charles Foster set out to know the ultimate other: the non-humans, the beasts. And to do that, he tried to be like them, choosing a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer, and a swift. He lived alongside badgers for weeks, sleeping in a sett in a Welsh hillside and eating earthworms, learning to sense the landscape through his nose rather than his eyes. He caught fish in his teet ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 21st 2016 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 28th 2016)
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Average rating 3.24  · 
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 ·  1,211 ratings  ·  253 reviews

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Jess Sohn
Jul 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Oh, how I really hated this. It was difficult to accept any "naturalist" observations from a person who makes no attempt to hide his contempt for so many animals in the kingdom. He also doesn't have any respect for the natural environment and minimizing his presence while out and doing his "experiments", which were basically comprised of rolling around on the ground, being a disturbance, and pooping everywhere. I didn't find his antics charming or informative; I found him to be an annoying, disr ...more
Peter Boyle
"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 has "generally been about humans striding colonially around, describing what they see from six feet above the ground." So 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
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016-reads, audio
[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 illust
Callum McLaughlin
Jan 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, nature
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 troph
Jul 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
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
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. ...more
Ben Thurley
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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" experim
quite a hard one to rate - how do you begin to judge a man who chose to live as a badger, eating worms and snuffling around in the soil, apart from simply being surprised that someone agreed to sleep with him? the premise of the book is on one hand beautiful but on the other, fatally flawed - the answer to the question of knowing what it's like to experience the world as another animal being: 'you can't'. however, he probably would have got closer if he didn't have his mate on speed dial bringin ...more
Kerri Anne
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 ...more
Sarah Ames-Foley
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I wouldn't dissuade others from reading this book, but I wouldn't recommend it either. I wasn't sure what I expected from a book detailing a man's efforts to live like animals, but I found this to be a rather underwhelming read. The writing itself was respectable, but I just didn't get sucked into the material like I'd like to. I was constantly rolling my eyes and waiting for the book to end. Foster is constantly using odd metaphors to describe his experiences, and I sort of get lost in figuring ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

I wanna punch author in his face for writing that people suffering from depression are so selfish in focusing on themselves that they lack empathy for others. And I am writing this review in English so that more people can see how disgusted I am.

Good side of this book is the language, Polish translation is quite smooth and easy to read. But if we are talking about its core, what's inside, new informations: there is none. I don"t trust any word printed between these
Tom Ewing
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of experiments in radical empathy with animals - or roaming around the English countryside and cityscape pretending to be them, take your pick - the writing this reminds me most of is Julian Cope's stuff on Krautrock and prehistory. Like Cope, Foster is a scholar, a mystic, a sensualist, a troll, and a genuine, gleeful seeker after knowledge, which often turns out to be self-knowledge. Also like Cope, the guy is a swaggering, rich writer. And - a final point of comparison - he can l ...more
Yukari Watanabe
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
I couldn't get into it. It was like listening to a harmless but boring uncle chatting to himself at a dinner table. ...more
Olly L-J
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'You've got to get dirty in the earth, cold and fearful in the air, singed in the fire and seasick in the water. You've got to scratch, scratch, scratch the world with the same paw or wing movements as the creatures you long to know.'

How much can we truly know about animals and the natural world by observing them from a distance, or studying them in a lab? Charles Foster believes, and I'm inclined to agree, that to really get to know animals we have to live like them, see the world through th
David Ball
May 28, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this. My wife worked in the same London chambers as Foster, and I'm sure I must have met him once or twice over drinks, so I felt I should support him, however indirect my connection. I also remember seeing a positive review for it in the Economist, which I tend to trust. Plus the premise for the book is pretty original - barmy English barrister attempts to live like a wild animal - what's not to like? I guess my main problem was that of expectations. I thought for each foray in ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who love philosophy, nature, and quirky authors
The premise of Being a Beast is as misleading as it is wacky: a man tries to live as a badger, then as an otter, a fox, a deer, and a swift, in order to understand what it’s like to experience the world as a wild animal. But beneath the surface this series of philosophical essays represents nature writing of the highest order: probing, intellectual, alert, funny, and astonishing.

Charles Foster is an Oxford fellow and self-described “writer, traveller, veterinarian and barrister.” His publication
Mary Keen
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio-overdrive
It's a very unusual book that I wouldn’t recommend to everyone, but actually have recommended it to 5 friends. In fact, I'm now listening to it for the 2nd time, which I've never done before!

The author, Charles Foster is a strange, curious Englishman who tried to get into the mind and habits of a badger, then an otter and others –by totally living in their environments and developing their senses, which he partially seemed able to. He talks frankly about his personal transition from internationa
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was very intrigued to check out this book when I read the concept of it. I mean this is dedication when an author goes all out to really submerse himself into the subject matters that he is writing about. I don't doubt for one bit that Mr. Foster really did eat a warm or drinking double espressos every couple of hours to attempt to experience what it is like to be an otter. As Mr. Foster states being a otter is like being on speed.

I contemplated giving up on this book after reading just about
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Born again' naturalist (he used to be a hunting, shooting barrister) Charles Foster enrols his family in a quest to get a closer understanding of what it's really like to be various animals by adopting their lifestyles. It sounds crazy, it is crazy - but the book is amusing and enlightening because Foster is quite well aware of that and writes in an enthusiastic but witty way about his experiences.

It made me wish that my own dear children were young again so I could make them come out with me
Rob Adey
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enormously entertaining account of extreme field biology, told with humour, self-awareness and gusto. There's probably too much reliance on evo-psych, and in the last chapter Foster reveals himself to be a fan of Rupert Sheldrake, but there's still a wealth of amazing info on his subjects here, and I really admire his dedication in attempting to get under the skin on these animals. Fun, too, if you imaging him reading it to a furry convention. ...more
Leila Nicotera
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
A bit disappointed with the amount of poetic introspection about himself more than anything. I expected and hoped for something a little more raw and visceral. Moments of thought provoking insights, but overall disappointing.
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: green
Charles Foster is an intriguing man. He holds a PhD in law/bioethics from the University of Cambridge and teaches Medical Law and Ethics at the University of Oxford. He is a qualified veterinary surgeon, a practicing lawyer, and author of over a dozen books, with titles ranging from Elements of Medical Law to Wired for God? The Biology of Spiritual Experience. He has also written about searching for the Ark of the Covenant and the legality of medical mistakes. He’s an adventurer of a stripe we d ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit weird, but refreshing

Foster really has pushed some boundaries with this witty book, based on a really cool idea. Basically, this book is an account of a slightly odd journey Foster takes to becoming a number of different animals. He recollects and muses about times he lived as a number of animals for extended periods of time, trying to experience the world as they do. We hear about how he created a badger den and lived in it with his son, about living as an urban fox in London (getting int
Caroline Kelemen
This is such a weird book and not in a good way. Please don't tell your kids to shit right next to rivers. Just because it's ok for beavers doesn't mean it's ok for you. ...more
Don't take the two star rating to mean this was not a good book. I found the book extremely interesting, and learned a decent amount from it. The rating comes more from my constant puzzling over whether or not living in a hole in the ground, eating earthworms, aphids, and larvae, etc. is truly necessary to embody the mind of an animal. Along with this is my concern with the notion that you don't need to lose yourself in order to become an animal shamanistically speaking. Isn't a certain degree o ...more
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. About my only complaint, for much of it, was how he never referenced or even mentioned John Muir who was very much an experiential/scientific engager with nature. Very much a kindred spirit. But, I guess Muir's more popular this side of the pond.

Regardless of that, it was a fun, delightful, and engaging experiment with approaching the lives and experiences of animals. I see so many reviews on here who rate him poorly because... well, I don't even remember why, but I totally di
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I liked this a lot. The writer seems a bit erm... eccentric. Having hunted animals in his younger days, he feels himself part of the natural order and now, in a more ethical mode, he sets out to see the world through their eyes, or rather through their noses. In the process he rummaged through bins (as a fox) waits in cold river water (otter) and spends weeks with his son, living in a hole in the ground, eating earthworms and roadkill. It's all the sort of thing that would get most people sectio ...more
Mar 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
I made it 77 pages into this book before calling it a day. What started off as the poetic musings of a 'naturalist' turned into what I can only describe as an absolute sh*tshow.
To begin with, laying in a ditch eating fish pie does not equal a 'badgers experience' and I found the writers descriptions of how frantically a live worm tried to escape his mouth both grotesque and totally not what I expected from this book.
Then we come onto his 'experience' as an otter. To start off his messed up exp
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Charles Foster is a Fellow of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford. He is a qualified veterinarian, teaches medical law and ethics, and is a practicing barrister. Much of his life has been spent on expeditions: he has run a 150-mile race in the Sahara, skied to the North Pole, and suffered injuries in many desolate and beautiful landscapes. He has written on travel, evolutionary bio ...more

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