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My Natural History, By Simon Barnes

A lucky encounter with an ugly bat can change a life

Simon Barnes's memoir is elegantly written and inventively conceived, with each chapter linked – more or less tangentially – to a species of animal. We discover how a childhood encounter with a "sublimely ugly" horseshoe bat sparked the author's lifelong fascination with wildlife; how a glimpse of a rare bird of prey enlivened his honeymoon in Norfolk; how a shared interest in exotic beasts has helped bring him closer to his children.

I found his poetic account of a whale-watching trip highly memorable: "My whales: perhaps I wanted to capture them in the only way I could, to harpoon them with my prose, and thereby to order the turmoil they had raised in my mind."