185. We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee

Pages: 261
Finished: Dec. 8, 2008
First Published: Sept, 2008
Genre: memoir
Rating: 2.5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

Mum and I arrived as the new owners of Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devon for the first time at around six o'clock on the evening of 20 October 2006, and stepped out of the car to the sound of wolves howling in the misty darkness.

Comments: Benjamin Mee is a journalist living in Southern France with his wife and 2 children, writing DIY articles for a British magazine. One day his sister calls to say she's found the perfect thing for him, a zoo is for sale in England. Why doesn't the family by it with the money from their recently deceased father. Ben's mum, brother and sister all jump on board and so begins the journey of buying a dilapidated zoo full of animals.

At the beginning of the story Ben's wife has recently been given the all clear after struggling with brain cancer but we soon know that she is not going to make it very far into the book when she has a very bad recurrence.

When I first was interested in reading this book I had sort of imagined a modern day Gerald Durrell and possibly set expectations too high. The book was readable and at time humorous but really didn't have much substance to it. We're taken through the whole process from trying to find finances, rebuilding to the first few opening months of the running zoo. There were fun antidotes about the animals and the employees but nowhere near as many as I had expected. Instead there were pages of evolutionary musings which were tedious and Ben's frequent use of "DIY" irritated me to no end. Didn't that expression go out with the nineties?

Ben comes across as having a bit of an ego and his observations are always from how they affected him, while I would have enjoyed more of an objective view which brought the other zoo keepers to deeper light as characters. While the book's title notes "200 Wild Animals" most of the antidotes were about wolves, tigers, pumas and peacocks, with only a few other animals briefly thrown in for variety. I expected a wider variety of animal discussion and more about their characteristics and habits than about there evolution. Just not what I expected, perhaps others will get more out of it than me.


  1. I considered getting this book. Judging by the grade you gave it, though, I am glad that I did not!

  2. what a disappointment! I love the title of the book and the idea of a family saving a small zoo. But it sound more "informative" and not a fictional story of a families struggle to save the zoo , which is what I thought it might be about. too bad.

  3. Well, it definitely is about a family saving a small zoo, but yes it is non-fiction. The author's memoir to be precise.

  4. I've seen a few reviews of this. It sounds so neat! I haven't been to the zoo in years but I've always enjoyed going. I couldn't imagine living in one though!


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