Paul's Corner: Being a Beast by Charles Foster

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Charles Foster

Charles Foster is an English veterinarian, zoologist, and lunatic who longs not simply to understand the animals that are the foci of his life, but to do his best to become them, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  He believes with Frans de Waal that animals live complex emotional lives, but he feels we cannot understand these lives until we live the lives they live.

His book, Being a Beast has been called “wilderness porn” by his English reviewers, follows Foster through badgers’ tunnels, living mostly on worms, the taste and texture of which he describes in considerable detail.  He becomes dirty by human standards in ways that might make many humans cringe.  

He admits to disliking the ever popular otter, despite its reputation for frisky jollity.  Foster dons a wet suit and searches the small rivers of England for eel and brown trout. Does he eat them? Yes he eats them. He does what he can to become various animals in the wild, discovering the kinds of  personalities they must develop to survive in their ecological niches.  

I know this sounds extraordinarily gimmicky, but when you read it there is little sense that this odd veterinarian is any kind of jokester at all. He wants to know. He NEEDS to know. When you read his book, you’ll want to know too and you’ll be delighted that someone else wanted to know badly enough to find out, while telling you the fascinating details. Read the book. You don’t have to eat the worms.

“Being a Beast is a strange kind of masterpiece: the song of a satyr, perhaps, or nature writing as extreme sport”—Financial Times

“Otters are land animals, who dabble, impressively but precariously, in the water.  They are much more stoat than seal.  Evolution has just begun to tinker with these primordial stoats, flattening their skulls, shifting their eyes  and nostrils to slightly more advantageous positions, and giving them thicker coats, tails like hairy outboard motors, an some half-hearted webbing between their toes.  And with these modest bequests, evolution threw otters into the deep, cold end and told them to get on with it, tyrannized by horrific thermodynamic arithmetic.” — Charles Foster