Review: Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life by George Monbiot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am, first of all, so thankful that George Monbiot broke his mold and spent a book writing about something with more hopeful overtones than the end of the world. Not that the end of the world isn’t a worthy subject for a life’s work, but as a change of pace, was it ever nice not to read about death and destruction on every single page. Thank you, George.

Feral is about rewilding. Not conservation, which he equates to a “prison” in which well-intentioned folks try to arrest ecosystems in artificial stages, whether it’s good for them or not. Rewilding is about people letting go of the reigns and allowing nature to do whatever it is that it’s going to do, and as it turns out, in every place it’s been tried so far (whether intentionally or no), it’s led to something good. Go figure. Nature knows what to do without people bossing it around.

Feral is, too, an awful lot about George pulling an Ernest Hemingway, although in wilderness or its closest counterparts rather than in bull-rings or war zones. He gets himself nearly dashed to pieces at sea in a kayak at least a couple of times and goes tramping around in various inhospitable places, looking for danger, and sometimes he finds it. In this, it has tones of a mid-life crisis, but at least it’s directed at something of possible benefit to the biosphere, which was thoughtful.

The one considerable downside of the book was the several chapters George spends (as other reviewers put it) muttering about how much he hates sheep. No doubt, over-grazing by sheep has been enormously destructive everywhere it’s been tried, and it is stupid beyond belief to expend precious conservation dollars preserving landscapes that are the result of sheep eating everything not actively poisonous to them. I really don’t think it deserves the amount of space George gives it in this book, and it certainly reduces the interest and impact considerably for anyone not living in a place dominated by a sheep economy. This is a shame.

Still. Rewilding is a lovely and important idea with emotional appeal for everyone who cares about nature and, when George isn’t balefully staring down sheep, Feral explores it well.

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