Review: We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Book cover of We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee

We Bought A Zoo has recently been turned into a film starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansen; we all know that. However, I’d like to point out that this was one of my favourite books before they raped it in movie-form. Also, despite how much I love this cover, it still took me a good few minutes to work out why there is a blue lion’s head emerging from the ‘O.’ Answer: There isn’t; it’s an ostrich. You know, I once hallucinated and saw a bear at the bus stop too… *shakes head sadly*

LATER: In fact, I love this book so much I’ve just bought a signed copy – supporting Dartmoor Zoological Park AND owning something amazing, all at the same happy time!

Plot summary: In June 2004 journalist Benjamin Mee was living a peaceful existence in the south of France. Benjamin, his wife Katherine and their two young children Ella and Milo had just made the final commitment to their new life by selling their home in London and buying two stone barns amidst the beautiful landscape of Languedoc. All this was about to change though, when Benjamin decided to buy a decrepit zoo in Dartmoor…

Benjamin’s story is a remarkable tale about anxious wolves, awkward creditors, escaping big cats, the power of family and the triumph of hope over tragedy.

So I watched the film and actually kind of liked it – you know, in that grudging acceptance you give when you can’t really remember the book it was based on but don’t want to admit it. Anyway, it did make me want to read We Bought A Zoo again… to it’s own detriment. Comparing the two, there’s just no contest. None. This isn’t a place for a movie rant; this is a book review, but one clearly, clearly clearly outshines the other.

I love this book so much I want to buy it dinner, lick it and curl up in bed with it (in that order, because I’m a lady). I literally don’t have a bad word about it, and I am made of bad words. I might even put that on my gravestone – ‘Here lies Hanna: she is made of bad words.’

*cough* Anyway. You don’t need to be a fan of animals, memoirs or zoos to love this book, because it seems to fit into a category of its own. Parts of it are so funny that I actually snorted my tea on one memorable, but not particularly attractive, occasion. There’s a general tone of cheerfulness and hope, even in the worst possible scenarios, that you just can’t fail to be uplifted and cheered by.

I combed the lighting section again at emergency speed, eyes scanning systematically up and down the rows of frilly pink bedside lights, glass ladies holding a single bulb, and of course, fairy lights. I tried to broaden my mission statement; would any of this lighting work as a compromise? I pictured our grizzled team working in a dank corridor with angle grinders and tigers in the next bay, and imagined their faces as I presented them with a Disney character desk lamp. No.

I was actually snuffling to myself as I typed that out (yes, I snuffle when amused. It’s endearing, clearly).

Ah, the animals. I can’t even explain how much I genuinely and desperately want to work in a zoo now. It’s easy to tell the deep affection and respect Benjamin Mee has for those in his care – he may have bought the zoo on a whim, but it’s obvious he doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly. I actually feel like I know some of those animals now, as each is referred to by name along with a few interesting facts along the way.

The movie is worth watching, but don’t think there’s no need to read the book. There is. There really, very much, is. For one thing, the book is vehemently British, so I have no idea why they felt the need to Americanize it. Secondly, there’s a lot of unnecessary romance shovelled into the film and it seemed irrelevant and also kind of disrespectful to Benjamin Mee’s wife. Admittedly I may not have been so irritated about it if I hadn’t already read the book, but hey ho.

Read my review of a similar book, Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, or visit Benjamin Mee’s zoo, Dartmoor Zoological Park. 



  1. I was kind of curious about the film when I saw a trailer ages ago. As per usual, I didn't pick up on the fact that it was a book until quite a while after that…now I do know and I'm more curious about that than I am about the film. Why have they made the film set in America?! That makes me sad…

    Plus, what a cute cover (even without a blue lion!)! There are obviously the obligatorily rubbish looking film covers floating around – I like Matt Damon's face as much as the next person but that doesn't mean that I want to read a book with it on.

  2. I almost picked this book up at the library once but decided against it and now there is a massive hold queue…
    I will add my name to the list, you make the book sound amazing 🙂

  3. The film didn't grab me at all, but the book sounds really great, i'll have to see if it's knocking about the local library sometime soon.

  4. Alexa says:

    I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but now, based on your review, I want to give the book a try. It sounds like it was extremely good indeed 🙂

  5. I have not either heard about the story or read the book. But It seems it really would be great. I would surely love to read the book.

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