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We Bought a Zoo [Hardcover]

Benjamin Mee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Jun 2008

‘Chuck it all in and buy a zoo? Why not?’ Thought Benjamin Mee, unaware of the grim living conditions, creditors and escaped big cat that lay in wait…

A few years ago, Ben and his wife, Katherine, sold their small flat in Primrose Hill and moved to France to pursue their dream of restoring an old barn near Nimes.

That dream then became much, much bigger for, last October, they moved with their two young children, Ben’s 76-year-old mother and his brother, into a dilapidated zoo on the edge of Dartmoor which they had bought, and found themselves responsible for 200 animals including four huge tigers, lions, pumas, three massive bears, a tapir and a wolf pack.

Ben's new extended family now included: Solomon, an African lion and scourge of the local golf course; Zak, the rickety Alpha wolf, a broadly benevolent dictator clinging to power; Ronnie, a Brazilian tapir, easily capable of killing a man, but hopelessly soppy; and Sovereign, a jaguar who is also a would-be ninja, and has devised a long term escape plan and implemented it.

But tragedy struck when Katherine, who had had a vicious brain tuumor removed when they were living in France, began to experience symptoms again. The prognosis was poor, and so Ben found himself juggling the complexities of managing the zoo and getting it ready for re-opening, and at the same time having to care for his rapidly deteriorating wife, their two young children, and their ever growing menagerie of animals.

Ben's story will both move and entertain – charting, simultaneously, the family's attempts to improve the animals’ lives, the build-up to the Zoo’s official reopening, as well as Katherine’s decline, her final days, and how the family went on.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Entertainment; First Edition edition (2 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007274866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007274864
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 538,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After starting a career as a bricklayer and decorator, Benjamin then began to study and write about animal intelligence, studying psychology at UCL and then completing an MSc in Science Journalism at Imperial College. Benjamin became a contributing editor to Men's Health magazine and a Guardian columnist, and then moved to Southern France, and began writing a book on the Evolution of Humour in Man and Animals. Then the zoo came up for sale, and everything changed.

Product Description


An engaging tale from someone who dared to do something different.'

'One of the most inspiring books I've read.'
Western Daily Press

'Mee writes movingly about his wife's fatal illness, his children coming to terms with this, his sprightly old mum and, of course, his 200 wild animals in all their diverse glory.'
Daily Mail


An engaging tale from someone who dared to do something different --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They bought a zoo, you should buy this book! 20 July 2008
Having visited the place (Dartmoor wildlife park) pre-Mee, I was shocked by the state of the enclosures and the park as a whole. So when I saw that the park had been taken over and that the guy had written a book about his exploits during the renovation and re-opening I was intrigued. This book held me as captive as Mr Mee's animals are (I occasionally escaped to other areas of the house for refreshments etc!), I was unable to put this book down. It is superbly written, filled with interesting titbits of info about animal and human behaviour, adventure, sadness and is sprinkled with humourous moments (I laughed out loud at least 20 times). I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend reading it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary my animals & other family . 19 Oct 2011
By russell clarke TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Speaking as someone intrinsically averse to taking risks (especially financial I doff my proverbial cap to Benjamin Mee and his family who sank a considerable amount of money, not to mention time ,effort , and love into buying a dilapidated zoo in Dartmoor. Having already moved from London to France to renovate a property there the decision is perhaps not as natural a one as it may first appear.
Even more so when you consider that Benjamin Mee's wife Katherine was undergoing treatment for a brain tumour . Tragically after undertaking the massive project to renovate the zoo and it's environs Katherine died leaving Benjamin a single father to young children as well as a guardian for a whole lot of animals and by proxy the staff at the zoo.
Engagingly recounted with no little wit and a genuine sense of hope and optimism , despite overwhelming odds against Benjamin Mee & his backers( extended family pulling the move off I Bought A Zoo is the epitome of a heart warming uplifting read. And that my friends is not normally something I would indulge in , but I was drawn to this book by an interest in animals and natural history not that zoo's really represent natural history , but you take my point .
If I were to be hyper critical I would point out that the narrative is somewhat muddled. The diagnosis of the tumour takes up a whole chapter , as it should, then completely disappears when the zoo project becomes feasible , only to abruptly jolt back into the story as poor Katherine nears the end.
The news that there was a T.V. series about the zoo came a shock. How did I miss this? There is also a film adaptation , directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson on the way. If it's anywhere near as entertaining and moving as the book we should be in for a treat.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Rowena
I picked this up first in Waterstone's and the first few pages had me smiling and then almost crying. So I bought it on here!

Just couldn't put it down, read it cover to cover. Really liked the style of writing, humorous, vulnerable and revealing in that wonderful English way. Felt included in the journey and privvy to the most fascinating parts of the revamp of the zoo and the authors life.

I have given this book to 3 friends and I am so impressed with it no doubt it will be making an appearance under several Xmas trees this year!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I bought the book!! 7 Aug 2008
By Robert P. Splaine VINE VOICE
Exceedingly well written, Benjamin's style grips you from page one.
His mother sounds such a wild-card person, l would love to meet her.
be honest how many ladies of 76, decide to sell everything they
own and go in with their son and buy a Zoo.
The Zoo they took on, was in a dire state, and didn't have a licence
to let people see any of the animals, so hope of opening soon as
they bought it went out of the window.
The story tells of his/their ups and downs (and mainly downs),
of getting the zoo together, right up to going to the council
office and seeing if he had passed all the tests councils
require. I read it in 3 days which is quick for me. Very easy
to read, and very entertaining.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching, charming, heartfelt 13 Dec 2011
By Gary Hilton VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"We bought a Zoo" (surely the most least imaginative title in literary history!) is a charming tale of a family that....err.....bought a zoo.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin (cover); basically tells how a family bought a run down zoo with the aim of regenerating it and re-opening it to the public. It is told from an honest, caring point-of-view from the author and at times is incredibly moving & heartfelt. One thing that oozes from the pages is the genuine fondness & love of animals, and I would heartily recommend this to both animal lovers & non lovers alike!

If I HAD to find a fault, it would be with the photographs contained within. As is usual with autobiographies/biographies, there are a half dozen pages of photographs that I personally feel are a missed opportunity; Instead of pictures of the sites & areas that are painstainkingly described within its pages, we get pictures of the animals. Now don't get me wrong; it is lovely to see pictures of the big cats described in the book itself, but surely when you've seen one picture of a tiger or a leopard you've seen them all? (Yes Yes...Philistine I know!) But why not show pictures of the prime sites and areas that Ben (the author) has spent full chapters describing? i.e the new kiosk or vetinary surgery, the grubby restaurant (before & after pictures?) Tiger mountain, etc. instead we get a picture of a tiger, a tapir, a lemur, a lynx, a pair of lovebirds....etc zzzzz

Other than this minor quibble I defy anyone after reading this book who doesn't want to rush straight off the Dartmoor to visit the Zoo itself! It is strangely uplifting in this time of the credit crunch, the eurozone crisis, the closing of high street shops etc that a family united can acheive so much! Beautiful.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story for animal lovers
If you love animals you will enjoy this book. The only downside was that I wanted a bit more detail and wanted to see the BBC documentary that ran alongside but can't get hold of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by claire2000
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-warming memoir
A heart-warming memoir that tells the story of how the failing Dartmoor Wildlife Park was bought by the Mee family in 2006 and turned around to be re-opened as Dartmoor Zoological... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Elle Field
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Family Video
Good family film, based on a true and inspirational story albeit the true story is about a zoo in South East England
Published 2 months ago by Richard Pickering
3.0 out of 5 stars OK only
Disappointing in its depth, other than with regard to the loss of his wife. More about his Mum and children throughout would have added more to what is after all about the journey... Read more
Published 3 months ago by R A Foreman
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book but no film!
The words 'film tie in' led me to believe that this came with a DVD; it did not.
Luckily the book was fantastic, so this made up for the disappointment.
Published 4 months ago by Victoria
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
This was a great book. I couldn't put it down. The story from start to finish was written in such a way that I felt part of the whole thing. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kathi Smyth
5.0 out of 5 stars Great movie
Kids loved it, as do we! I have to write 14 more words before I can leave a message so here they are!
Published 6 months ago by simpal
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story
I'm a carer and I loved reading this to some of my patients which a re children and they loved it :)
Published 7 months ago by Jess
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story
A must read for anyone interested in animals in captivity, zoology or just want a great real life story to read. Great to read before or after watching the movie. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Miss D. E. Allan
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive, witty and inspiring.
Having visited the zoo prior to reading the book, a lot of the content makes sense. Living locally to another zoo(Twycross) Which has conservation and breeding programmes they... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mark Shingler
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