inspirational, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#486 We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin MeeWe Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Look, if my husband bought a zoo, I would probably kill him, well, maybe not…it might be pretty nifty to own a zoo. It would be a change of pace at least.

Benjamin is a real person and he did really buy a zoo. His entire family actually bought a zoo. They went in on it together. There is a movie, based on this book, which I have not seen, but maybe now that I’ve read this book, I might watch the movie.

Benjamin is a writer. He was living in France with his wife and two children. His father had died and the family kind of decided that they wanted to do something together. The former family home sold for a lot more money than anyone expected so they looked into buying a zoo. They figured it could be a family run thing, or maybe they were just all crazy, but they went with it. It took a long time to get ok’d to buy the zoo. Not just anybody can buy a zoo apparently. There were endless amounts of paperwork and endless loops and knots of red tape.

During all of this Benjamin’s wife Katherine was diagnosed with cancer. The first round of treatments were quite successful. For a while Katherine was able to pitch in with the zoo. The family was green-lighted to buy the zoo and they hit the ground running. The zoo had lost its license, so Benjamin’s family had to get it back. It seemed there were endless hoops to jump through. This is all a British TV show by the way, you can watch it; it’s called Ben’s Zoo. As the zoo was struggling to get back on its feet, Katherine’s cancer came back and Ben had to be her caretaker. Ultimately, Katherine died before the zoo opened to the public.

Big cats escaped, wolves escaped, animals had dental work, some animals were given vasectomies, employees didn’t like each other, buildings had to be torn down, and just about anything else you can imagine happened to Ben, his family, and the zookeepers. After months and months of getting ready and man setbacks, Ben’s family finally opened up their zoo.

They were surprised to find that more people liked it than they thought, but there was always room for improvement. Ben ultimately thinks of the zoo as something of a monument to his father.

What I liked

I like memoirs, so of course I read this book. I have never known anyone who has ever bought a zoo. The great thing about Benjamin’s memoir is that he actually has something to back it up. Sometimes when you’re reading a memoir it’s this nice story, but the great memoirs are the ones you can research. You can go to Ben’s zoo’s website and check things out. You can see pictures of Ben and pictures of animals in the park. It’s obviously something that the entire family put a lot of work into. I think that’s rather neat.

I do think it’s amazing that this family could stop bickering long enough to open up a zoo. They obviously are not related to me in any way because my family is not like that at all. We have bickering contests at the holidays. I’m joking…not really. Maybe it’s more like ranting contests?

Ben was able to go through with this giant project in the midst of losing his wife to cancer. Cancer takes a toll on an entire family, but Ben’s entire family kept on moving. They kept going. They kept striving towards this very difficult project. You really have to hand it to them. That takes dedication and a stick-to-it-ness that a lot of people don’t have. Cancer usually stops lives. It doesn’t matter where you are in life, cancer usually stops your life for a while and maybe forever. You may never progress past the point where you were before you got cancer or before your loved one got cancer. That one point in life might be where you’re going to stay. Your desire to advance your career or finish that project may have just gone away with cancer’s entrance into your life. It happens and nobody can really blame you for letting it happen. It’s difficult for a person to keep moving and keep going after cancer strikes close to home.

What I didn’t like

I did really enjoy this memoir. I think Ben and his family are great. There isn’t a lot I don’t like. My only point would probably be that Ben puts too many facts in this books. Normally, I would praise this, but Ben’s book is a story; it’s a narrative. To me, leaving off your narrative to say, “Oh, well African swallows can carry coconuts from Africa to England in a week or less providing they follow certain wind and current patterns,” interrupts the story a bit.

This isn’t because Ben is boring; it’s because Ben used to write for magazines and newspapers. It was his job to look up facts and put them in your article. He writes the way he does because that’s just how he was used to writing. It’s not a bad thing; it can be just a little disruptive when trying to read in story mode.

I also kind of feel the story has been milked. There is a book. There is a movie. There is a television show. The book was post-television show, which is always odd. Is there going to be a video game as well? It’s great to tell a story in multiple mediums, but there does come a point when you have to ask yourself if your medium is appropriate or even if the story has been told too many times. Should someone make a porno of this story? Probably not. Should you tell it so many times that it loses its luster? Again, probably not.


If I ever find myself in Dartmoor, I’m going to go to Ben’s zoo.

benjamin mee, books about zoos, dartmoor zoological park, memoirs about animals, memoirs about zoos, we bought a zoo, we bought a zoo book, We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
inspirational, Mee-Benjamin, Memoir, Non-Fiction


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