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My Natural History: The Animal Kingdom and How it Shaped Me Paperback – 3 Mar 2011
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My Natural History fizzes with verve, romance and delight - and more epiphanies than could reasonably be expected in one lifetime.A" The Times Barnes is a committed naturalist, with a wonderful knowledge of wildlife and a gift for bringing his enthusiasm to life - He has a deft turn of phrase and a lyrical style - A" Rosie Boycott Reading Barnes's prose is a bit like peeling a rather elegant onion, as he gradually reveals secrets about his life through the medium of the natural world. My Natural History will delight Barnes' loyal readers and win him new ones..A" BBC Wildlife Magazine Few memoirs have been moulded around so inviting a conceit as this. Barnes writing is lovely and his animals are nicely observed, yet this is a book whose appeal derives as much from the author's generous spirit as the story he is telling. A" TLS
About the Author
Simon Barnes is the multi-award-winning chief sportswriter for the Times. He is also a novelist, nature writer and horseman, and the author of a dozen books, including the bestselling How to be a Bad Birdwatcher and The Meaning of Sport (Short Books). He lives in Suffolk with his family.
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I opened the amazon pack and was immediately struck by the charming book cover design. It's so reminiscent of the many animal book cover illustrations of my childhood. When Barnes starts the first chapter at his primary school I was already there.
Each chapter describes a specific natural encounter that has illuminated, influenced or enriched his life.
From schooldays and university, through good and bad times at work, relationships, family and fatherhood. Barnes writes with enthusiasm and romance of the wonder, awe and life changing impact nature has had on him.
From the Greater horseshoe bat, via the grey whale and Morelet's crocodile, to the Barn Owl and all the 20 chapters in between we get to read how wildlife has left an indelible stamp on his life.
And there are moments of great humour and warmth here too- you soon appreciate why only Barnes could have spotted a crested pendola at a significant moment in a West Indies test!
My Natural History is written in Barnes's light, forthright and eminently readable style. In 23 short chapters it tells the stories of significant moments in Barnes's fifty-odd years in all of which he finds a wildlife connexion - many indeed being centred around wildlife. The tales vary from great achievements (mostly of the wildwood; always understated), through great loves to the occasional disturbing poignancy. It is short, light, bedtime reading, and no worse for that for it could easily be sub-titled "How to be a Success without any Effort while Remaining Interesting and Human".
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.