51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Benjamin Mee has finally settled his family in a French barn/house and has settled in to write a book when his father dies and his siblings begin to consider purchasing a zoo. His 76 year old mother supports this idea, but negotiations fall apart and each sibling returns to their lives. Mee and his wife Katherine and son Milo and daughter Ella are busy with daily life when a health problem strikes Katherine and the Mee family is just trying to survive. In the midst of this the zoo becomes available again and after protracted negotiations and countless compromises the family, minus one brother purchase the zoo which they rename Dartmoor Wildlife Park.
Life at the zoo is a continuing series of struggles as the family tries to return the park to a financial success. The children and the staff come to respect and love the animals. Of course there are unexpected crisis...escaping cats, sick animals, sick family and the countless health inspections. We Bought a Zoo is a delightful glimpse into what it takes to run a small private zoo and a glimpse of what might be referred to as the eccentricity of the British. I appreciated the honest account of one family's plunge into chasing a dream. While the story sometimes holds the reader at arm's length, it is a heartwarming read.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Rating: 3.5 stars
In "We Bought A Zoo", Benjamin Mee tells the story of how his family came to buy the Dartmoor Zoological Park and the great lengths it took to revitalize the zoo and prepare it for opening day. I think this book is particularly appealing because it is so hard to imagine most people purchasing a zoo or even entertaining the idea of doing so. Hence, the mystery of it all! I was intrigued by the book's topic and I just had to find out what Mee's thought process was and the reasoning behind his family's extraordinary acquisition.
From the start, Mee provides an in-depth analysis into the zoo-keeping business and leaves no details unexplored. Some of the information about animal grooming and sterilization seemed a bit excessive to have included and tended to distract from the story. However I do understand that Mee wanted to provide readers all of the facts, even if they seemed trivial, in order to paint the complete picture of what he had to cope with on a daily basis. The most interesting parts about the animals were their interactions with each other and their keepers. I also really liked the scenes that depicted the animal runaways which really gave a glimpse into how stressful and sometimes exciting managing a zoo can be. There are even some beautiful color photos of Mee's family and ones of the noteworthy animals mentioned in the book!
While most of the book is dedicated to details of the zoo and Mee's formal responsibilities to the zoo, the parts that talk about his wife Katherine and her illness are really touching. I enjoyed reading about their special relationship and how much Mee too care of her. It was nice to see the Mee's caretaking side because it came in contrast to his required business-like manner while running the zoo.
With all the anticipation that had been building up while reading the book, the ending was incredibly satisfying. It is one of those books where the ending can be nothing but expected, and nonetheless I felt an immense sense of relief when reading about the zoo's successful opening. I also felt proud of the Mee family for how much they had all accomplished and how they grew closer as a family, despite the hardships encountered along the way.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2008
We Bought A Zoo is subtitled: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever
Given that, the story takes a little time to get off the ground. We find the author, a free-lance writer, living in rural southern France with his wife & two children and refinishing two dirt-floor stone barns. When word comes through his sister that a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside is for sale, the author & his extended family takes action to purchase it. This is not an easy endeavor and the business details fill the first quarter of the book. Note also that a BBC film crew got wind of the endeavour and asked to film the process.
The thing is, I don't think I'd like Benjamin Mee if I met him in person. He uprooted his family once, by selling their beloved flat in London to move to his personal idyll in France, and then again, back to England because, after all, HE'D always wanted to own a zoo and now his French dream wasn't what he wanted after all. On both occasions, he overrode his wife Katherine. This was especially appalling to me the second time because Katherine was newly diagnosed with a brain tumour & receiving (excellent) treatment in France. The fact that his (possibly) dying wife wasn't enthused about this new venture didn't faze him a bit.
In addition, although Mee has experienced staff and certified professionals advising him, he ignores their advice in serious decisions at least twice that he reports. In both cases, things ended up favorably but, rather than be grateful for twists of fate that may have affected the situations, he boasts and struts.
But the story? Animal lovers, once you get past the purchase transaction, there's plenty of goodies for you amidst the details of the continuing financial issues, grim living conditions (for the family), and Katherine's disease and eventual death.
Imagine the day staff moved Tammy the tiger without proper restraint precaution, only to have the beast gain consciousness as they moved her. Mee describes the situation as being "beyond fear, to total calm". But the fear lingered when, sometime later, Mee & his brother are startled by a large animal moving behind them while checking some reservoir pipes, & spring to defend their lives - against the neighbor's cow. I believe they were less afraid when one of their younger wolves was running loose through the nearest town. And there is an amusing exposé: what happens "When Porcupines Go Bad".
Perhaps the most likable animal in the zoo was Zak, the elderly alpha wolf, who "maintained his grip on the pack now, not with brute force, but through sheer charisma and experience." The account of his surgery to save him from testicular cancer will be a source of angst among male readers and of glee to the women.
Mee's account of the peacock - which he evidently disdains - as a dumb, evolutionary mistake, is humorous. It also amuses me that Mee can describe the wonders of these animals and their behaviours and personalities and make attribution every time to the marvel of evolution, to the point, by his own admission, that it "[made] evolution sound (almost) like a religion".
That these creatures are so intelligently made, with abilities beyond what are needed for survival, and so varied is surely evidence of a designer, a creator. And since, according to Mee, the peacock (named, so he postulates, for the size of its brain), has that marvelous tail that is so "evolutionarily expensive", it really should be extinct by that theory. The last time I checked on the world's peacock population, that wasn't the case.
I would have loved to see more photographs of the animals Mee brings to life in his stories, but the colour pictures included are disappointing. Nearly half are of their project in France, and the ones of the animals include many that are not named in the book, and exclude many that are.
I really did learn a tremendous amount, though, about the running of a zoo. It's a highly regulated & examined business - and an almost unmaginably expensive one to run. The money and the struggle to get it, manage it & plan for making it, are a major part of the book. And, animal lovers with the same dream, please note that, despite the months of Herculean effort by Mee, his family & his staff, the zoo would not have succeeded financially if the BBC (whose film crew had been on location for those many months) had not run the four-part television series Titles "Ben's Zoo" in November of their opening year. That brought more paying visitors and made endless opportunities for additional moneymaking venues such as this book. Without that, the zoo would have closed, broke, after the first summer and the animals would have been disperse. In other words, "Kids, don't try this at home!"
Should you read it? Even though I personally dislike the author, he does write well and the book held my attention from beginning to end. There are no bogged down bits - it's all moving forward. If you like animals or are interested in learning about the world of zoos, then by all means - read it & enjoy!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This was a pretty powerful memoir. It combines a family, a dream, hard work, and tragedy. I think for the most part all the elements are pretty well balanced. I was rooting for this family and the success of their zoo and dream. They worked tirelessly to make improvements for the animals and zoo while trying to remain a close-knit family as the author's wife passes away.
I loved reading about the author's wife and children, especially his love for his wife. I would have loved to learn a bit more about his other family members as well. The author's mother is mentioned several times but I would have liked to learn more about his siblings.
All the stories related to the zoo were pretty amazing. Multiple animal escapes, staff spats, and animal personalities. There was a great deal going on. And I loved it all! At times when the author was talking about the animal enclosers I had a hard time picturing exactly what he meant. I don't know if it was just me or if it's hard for a zoo outsider to understand these things. It was very rewarding to see the zoo's makeover from start to finish and see the staff form and come together to get the zoo ready for inspection.
This was a very original true story and I would like to learn more about this family and their zoo since this book was completed!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2008
Normally, no matter how interesting the topic, I never seem to finish any non-fiction books I pick up. They just never manage to raise my interest level to the point that I normally voraciously consume fiction.
This book is my exception.
I started by just leafing through and reading excerpts. It did not take long for the book to hook me in. I finally started from the beginning, and read the entire thing, cover to cover that very evening. It's a lovely tale, though tinged with sadness. I love the author's voice as he narrates his story. It is very conversational, and made me both laugh outloud, and shed a couple of tears. This is someone I'd love to get know, this book doesn't just tell a story, but lets you into someone's life.
This is an author I will look forward to reading more of.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've been a fan of memoir for a while. Lately I've enjoyed memoirs about people who take risks by leaving everything familiar behind to embark on some sort of dream.
Benjamin Mee's We Bought a Zoo fits perfectly in this latter category. Due to several changes in his family -- namely an inheritance from his father's death and not wanting his mother to grow old alone -- Mee and some of his siblings ended up buying a plot of land that happened to contain a zoo.
Mee's writing style is funny with flashes of the technical. Professionally he was trained as a psychologist making some of his observations about the humans and animals he works with very interesting. He has also done some science writing, so that factors into his style as well. I love a memoir that teaches me about interesting things as I'm reading.
The one downside is that it does read a little detached. He's writing about his wife's illness (in the movie she's already passed away), and her death and his recovery, but if you're not reading closely, you almost miss any reflection about that. But this is an upside as well. It allows the story to truly focus on the adventure and the strain (and even the danger) of buying a dilapidated zoo and readying it to reopen.
The most recent occasion of nocturnal fear was while walking the dog, Leon. I heard something big moving very slowly toward me. I hesitated, hoping that the idiot dog would pick up on it, and, ideally, challenge it and be eaten by it rather than me. But he remained oblivious, selfishly snuffling around the many animal scents rather than volunteering to sacrifice his life for me (page 203).
Benjamin and Leon the dog were both safe, as instead of being a puma in heat as he had worried, it was actually a neighbor's cow "stalking me because it presumably thought that I was the farmer, breaking the habit of a lifetime by bringing it food at 3 a.m."
I saw an early screening of this movie. I loved it. It's a completely different take on the story than the book, definitely exploring more of the emotional side while still looking at the adventure and virtual impossibility of making this zoo work, but in spite of the many differences, it's obvious that the idea is the same. I liked them both in different ways (but love the overall presentation of the movie).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I've always loved inspiring true stories. If you're looking for an inspiring, but also gripping and educational story, "We Bought a Zoo" is the story for you.It is inspiring because it helps you see the bright side of the things; it is gripping because you want to find out how Benjamin will finally overcome all the difficulties, the harshest being his wife's death; it is educational as it hints at a few controversial topics about zoos. But above all, Benjamin gives a huge example of respect and consistency to his family and collaborators, and to readers.