This is an enthralling read. In each chapter Warwick explores a different British species and introduces us to a particular enthusiast who has dedicated their life's work to preserving it. What makes 'The Beauty in the Beast' so compelling is the charming, sometimes laugh-out-loud narration. Here the author is describing a bat's face: "There is a very small space between cute and ridiculous, and somehow this bat managed to occupy it with confidence."
As well as being highly entertained we learn a huge amount of fascinating facts on each animal. Warwick explains that the gorgeous fur of long-eared bats is velvet to the touch, and that they purr when stroked. We learn that because of their bright, gem-like eyes, people believed that toads had a jewel embedded in their brain. We learn that otter poo, as well as being full of fish bones, smells like perfume.
I couldn't put the book down. Warwick's delightful enthusiasm not only for the animal experts but also their beloved species is infectious: "I suffer with a surfeit of empathy for both nature and humanity," he admits towards the end of the book. "What I have learned.." he concludes, "is that by applying ourselves to just one aspect of the beautiful and alarmingly fragile diversity of the natural world, we can learn to love not just a single species, but the entire web of life that sustains it and us."
As with all of the best comedy, there are some deeply touching and resonantly serious moments. Warwick also has a warning: "Seeing more deeply and falling in love both come with risks. The pain we experience as a result can be as immense as the pleasure. 'The stabbing pain of love's awakening' to quote Mahler's 'Song of the Earth' , is joined with the fear of loss."
Having read this book I wanted to shout with joy. It's a map showing us the way to come home to the things we love, and in this time of ecological crisis a call to action. We all need a species to love, be it ant, adder, beaver or bat: "Let us all take the risk of becoming attached to something out there," Warwick ends: "See deeply, open up your senses, become aware of the interconnectedness of life, and risk falling in love."
From the start Warwick set himself the task of finding a favourite from amongst his list of encounters. I won't give away which species Warwick chooses for his new tattoo at the end, but when the decision finally comes it is unexpected and moving.
I recommend this to anyone who loves animals. Buy it for all your friends, it will make a superb, heart-lifting gift.