Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide
Metropolitan, 2016 (2016)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
harles Foster is a veterinarian who knows a lot about the bodies of animals, but he wanted to try to understand how they think from their viewpoint.
Being a Beast
is his account of his attempts to live like certain animals and really get inside their heads.
e takes his eight-year-old son Tom with him to Wales to live like badgers because Tom's height of four and a half feet is much closer to the ground and hence to a badger's size when crawling along on all fours than his own six foot three height. He enlists a friend with a backhoe to dig a deep trench into the side of a flat-topped mountain and he and Tom cover it with branches and bracken and seal it with earth, and this becomes their badger home. They crawl around the area, digging farther into the earth and enduring the elements, for weeks in the summer, even attempting to eat what badgers eat, including worms. His descriptions of what worms taste like, while not appetizing, aren't as disgusting as one would think. The friend brings them food at first, and they do have normal food that they took with them. The experience with badgers is the closest that Foster manages to get to living like the animal that he's studying.
is animal choices in addition to the badger were the river otter, urban fox, red deer, and swift, and his descriptions of what he went through to simulate being the animals are sometimes humorous. For instance, he got caught lying under bushes in the East End of London, and when the policeman asked him what he was doing, he said that he was trying to be a fox and he wanted '
to know what it's like to listen all day to traffic and to look at ankles and calves rather than at whole people.
' The policeman, needless to say, was not amused and told him to '
bugger off home, sir, and get a life.
e explains that for the obvious reasons that he can't be an herbivore or live in the air or water, his attempts to emulate the lives of the otter, deer, and swift had to be much more observational, as opposed to his attempts to actually live as badger and fox. However, Foster's shared knowledge of these animals leads him to good conclusions as to their thought processes.
lthough the book as a whole is interesting and entertaining, it would have been more fun had there not been an undercurrent of sarcasm and anger at mankind for its lack of care of the environment. I'm a firm believer in the old maxim that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so it seems to me that if you want to encourage people to look out for animals and our world, you give them the facts - maybe in a humorous way - but try not to antagonize them. I admit to having been annoyed at times, and I'm on his side.
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