Review: Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide

Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species DivideBeing a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I started off greatly intrigued by the premise, but my expectations for what the book was going to be ended up not panning out. From the author’s forward, what I imagined I would be reading was a series of narrative nonfiction essays told from the perspective of the various beasts. Each beast would be a different character and various things would happen to them; all approximated, of course, because of the whole subjective nature of individual minds, especially human minds trying to approximate nonhuman minds. However, none of those expectations panned out.

Ultimately, we have musings that wander back and forth through various topics while making commentary on eating earthworms, tasting slugs (seriously, don’t ever do that), and rolling around in the woods for a while. While it started out interesting enough, the essay on otters started to lose me, as the author begins to create an emotional understanding of different animals that feels painfully antiquarian. And then, of course, there’s his opinion on cats (he hates them) and that was where I found myself in the weeds with regards to “Being a Beast.” I finished it out of a sense of obligation, having come so far (also I never allow myself to review books that I have not read in their entirety.)

Final verdict: a weird book that starts off with an interesting premise, but meanders and chases its own tail. There are a few interesting anecdotes along the way (such as the discussion with a police officer about how the author is “trying to be a fox”), but they are few and far between. It becomes increasingly difficult to determine when the author is being sincere and when he is being hyperbolic. I came away from the book feeling mostly disappointed by my misunderstanding of the premise. Which might say more about me than the book (it does), but that’s what you get when you read reviews from nonprofessional dilettantes such as myself.

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Keeping It All In Perspective

So it seems like North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Well, actually, there’s no ‘seems’ about it; you can’t open a blog or RSS feed without reading a terrifying headline about the impending nuclear apocalypse. I suppose that by writing this post, I’ll be including myself in such august company. Oops.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in my reading, I tend to fixate on a subject for a while before moving on to the next one. While I don’t think that this makes me an expert on the Korean geopolitical situation, I do believe I’ve read enough about the topic to have something above a passing familiarity with North Korea and the developing situation over there. And in my (admittedly amateur) opinion, I think that it’s important to keep a few things in mind while the Google News headline is PENTAGON SAYS NUCLEAR MISSILE IN REACH FOR NORTH KOREA.

Seems pretty scary, right? North Korea is undeniably crazy, based on past experience such as its scientific discovery of the unicorn and the fact that it insists on being called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, despite the fact that such a name is both embarrassingly redundant (how many Democratic Republics belong to somebody other than the people?) and also wrong (how many Democratic Republics are actually totalitarian dictatorships?)

It seems that people like to overstate the military danger that North Korea possesses. That’s not to say that North Korea can’t be dangerous, just that it’s substantially less dangerous towards those of us living in the Unite States since we’re separated by that negligible body of water known as the entire Pacific Ocean.

If North Korea has developed a nuclear device capable of fitting onto a ballistic missile, that’s very bad news for South Korea, Japan, Australia, and every other US friendly nation. That is very bad news, indeed, and if things fall apart, a whole lot of people could be killed.

Keep in mind, however, that there is no scenario in which North Korea can win other than by doing what it’s always done, which is nothing. Many of their people are still starving to death. All China has to do is say “yeah, we’re done,” turn off the flow of resources that it’s been supplying, and North Korea collapses. They can’t go it alone and if they ever unleash a nuclear weapon, you can be they’ll be completely alone. It’s your basic WarGames scenario.

So while the headlines keep rolling out about the growing nuclear threat that is North Korea, keep in mind that while North Korea has the “largest military on earth with 9,495,000 active members,” it is also one of the most poorly equipped armies in the world. It’s an army that has been crippled by its own economic weakness. Most of its equipment dates back to the Cold War or earlier. Its military budget is $8 billion dollars. South Korea’s military budget is almost twice that.

It sounds like a lot to read that North Korea boasts “the largest submarine fleet in the world.” It’s less impressive when you consider that most of these submarines were acquired as scrap from Russia. What I’m trying to say is that history is filled with examples where having more guys doesn’t mean anything when the enemy has better weapons. Every single country North Korea has a grudge against (pretty much everyone) has better weapons.

I’m not saying that we should ignore North Korea; frankly, I consider it to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. However, that concern doesn’t lend itself to any real feelings of fear on my part. I think there’s rather too much fear going around these days and it’s helpful to be reminded that many, if not most, of the things we fear will never actually come to pass.