At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye

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At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley
Reviewed by Madeline Wheatley
Summary: Renowned naturalist John Lister-Kaye shares his thoughts on nature conservation and his encounters with wildlife over the course of his daily walks around a small Scottish hill loch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Canongate Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1847674050

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This is a book that readers feel strongly about, and one with which I must confess to having a love/hate relationship! I loved the detailed observation, the sharing of knowledge that Lister-Kaye has built from a lifetime of close study of the countryside. He delights in and pays as much attention to the structure of a spider's web as to the rarest of meetings with a Scottish wildcat.

There are practical pointers for would be nature watchers as well as far more serious comments on the mess we are making of our planet. I enjoyed the small but helpful throwaway remarks, for example on the need for a silent jacket when out walking, because jackets that rustle are made and worn by people who think human, not wild. In those parts of the book where Lister-Kaye describes his daily walk, and the impact of the changing seasons, it's impossible not to be swept up by his enthusiasm and love of his Scottish home.

On the other side of the coin, the lyrical language used throughout the book can seem overblown. The sun becomes the great god Sol, a slow worm wakes stirred by some cryptic alchemy of electro-chemical sentience. Personally, I prefer it when the author tells it straight. But I'm sure that for many, the poetic twists are an essential part of the book's appeal.

Much harder for me to accept, however, is the retelling of the school visit. Lister-Kaye retrospectively lambasts a seventeen year old who had the temerity to appear openly bored during his talk to her class, and then actually questioned the need to have listened to him at all. At the time of the incident the author feels he did not reply fully to the girl. He makes up for this by tearing into her in print, with regular condescending repetitions of the big deal, dear Sammy, is…. We've all had moments when we didn't say what we meant and with hindsight imagine how to replay the conversation to our advantage. But to do this from a position of superior strength, in the young girl's absence, is unworthy of such a well known figure. For me it added a slightly sour taste to an otherwise excellent banquet of a book.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion:

Try our List Of Books To Celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th Anniversary, which picks up on the themes of competition and survival of the fittest found in At the Water's Edge

Buy At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy At the Water's Edge: A Walk in the Wild by John Lister-Kaye at Amazon.com.


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