Being a Beast | Book Recommendation

Charles Foster

Being a Beast is a strangely calming book. I say strangely calming because there are parts that made me feel a little anxiety at times, but even those resulted into some form of feeling at peace.

Foster had me hooked at the very first line of the book.

“I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing,” he wrote.

It felt as if he took my deepest wishes that I wasn’t able to articulate and just yelled them into the world. I felt exposed and understood at the same time.

He did an excellent job explaining the why’s of his endeavor without it feeling like a lecture, which is something I found a little problematic with other authors.

I must say that his simple and natural approach to explaining his motivation or the theology and science behind it is also used to the how’s of this ‘project.’

“First, I immense myself in the relevant physiological literature and discover what is known from the laboratory about the way these animals function. And second, I immerse myself in their world. When I’m being a badger I live in a hole and eat earthworms. When I’m being an otter I try to catch fish with my teeth.

Yes, Foster did as he said. It might sound like this book isn’t for the faint of heart based on the above citation, but Foster somehow managed to write about those experiences in a way that felt natural. Eventually, I wasn’t even weirded out by it.

My possibly favourite parts of the book was the chapter on ‘becoming a beast’ and the epilogue. Foster dives into how closely connected we humans are with other species, and how, perhaps unexpectedly, deepening the connection with the natural world helped him deepen the connection with his children.

What I really enjoyed is that Foster doesn’t look at the whole picture through only one lens. He talks about religion, science, shamanism,… and does a great job finding and pointing out where they differ, where they agree, and why it is so. Perhaps my favourite statement of the whole book comes early on, on page 7:

“Species boundaries are, if not illusory, certainly vague and sometimes porous. Ask any evolutionary biologist or shaman.”

I’m going to leave it at this. Even though eating earthworms might not sound like something you’d want to read about, I can assure you that there’s much, much more to this book than meets the eye, and it’s worth giving it a try.

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