This is an honest and often surprisingly personal book that charts the connection, disconnection and reconnection of Simon Barnes with the natural world. In 23 chapters, each one nominally about a different animal (plants clearly don't cut the mustard here!) the author goes to school, university, Asia, Africa, Suffolk and marries. He has two children. He sees whales, birds at the cricket, badgers feasting on nuts, barn owls from his desk and rabbits by the railway. He sees animals he thought he never would and finds ones he did not know were there.
The sense of wonder conveyed by this book is as clear as the connection the author feels with the wild. The chapters develop a familiar rhythm, and most end in an effort to provide an insight into why we should be connected with nature. But the book also contains a number of surprises. The chapter on Rabbits (possibly appropriately!) is one of the best pieces I have read in a very long time on the adventure that is parenthood.
However, I am not sure that this is the book I would recommend to readers who have not read any of Simon Barnes' work before. The subtitle of the book is "The animal kingdom and how it shaped me", and I think that the last word is important here. This is very clearly a book about Simon Barnes. I feel that this really is a "making of" book - not just the making of Barnes himself as the title would suggest, but also his thinking on the natural world and, possibly above all else, of his writing as well. To read this book without first having read some of his other works would seem to be approaching things in the wrong order - meeting the man before you have met his work. I acknowledge that I could be wrong, but I found the "back story" elements about his growing relationship with Africa or Minesmere engaging at least partly because I already knew the "front story" from his other works. I am not sure that this book would have worked as well as it did for me without this kind of prior knowledge.
Don't get me wrong, this is a good book, with an important central message. But I think Barnes has made the points he makes better elsewhere (How to Be Wild
If you enjoy high quality writing on the natural world, buy this book. But if you want to get the most out of it you may want to read some of the authors other work before hand.