Squirrel Nation is a history of Britain's two species of squirrel over the past two hundred years. The red squirrel, although rare, is among the most cherished of native species. Grey squirrels, by contrast, are one of the most frequently seen wild creatures in our gardens, parks, towns and countryside, and many Britons consider it to be a foreign interloper, introduced from North America in the late nineteenth century. By examining this animal's colonization of Britain, Peter Coates also explores timely issues of belonging, nationalism, citizenship and the defence of borders within Britain today. Ultimately, though people are swift to draw distinctions between British squirrels and squirrels in Britain, Squirrel Nation shows that Britain's two squirrel species have much more in common than at first appears.
1. A tale of two squirrels
2. Red before grey
3. Grey and red
4. American hustle, c. 1919–39
5. Waging war on the ‘grey peril’, c. 1939–73
6. Wanted: red and alive
7. Learning to live with (and to love) the grey
Peter Coates is an Emeritus Professor of American and Environmental History at the University of Bristol. His previous books include Salmon (2006) and A Story of Six Rivers (2013), both published by Reaktion Books.
"This is eco-cultural history at its best, thoughtful, witty and engaging. Peter Coates deftly scurries and leaps through the branches of British squirrel-scapes while challenging us to reflect on the meaning of home, and of human nature."
– Rob Lambert, environmental historian, University of Nottingham
"Possibly no other creature has attracted more emotion or controversy in the British nation than squirrels – at least since the rambunctious greys first arrived from America in 1876 to begin spreading beyond their welcome to foster rifts with the local reds. Yet it is precisely such squirrel antics that allow us to better understand our own human world, from childrens' storybooks to national anthems, from beer to royal families. If the odd grey squirrel became an "aggressive thug", maybe the red squirrel really did show a "stiff upper lip". Peter Coates's revealing tales of squirreldom have the very serious purpose of exposing the biases, compassions, wits and dreams of the British people themselves, who have been busy tussling with each other as they tussle with these cuddly creatures. By weaving in key insights about the biology of squirrels and their habitats, Squirrel Nation skilfully combines the best of natural history with cultural history. This is animal studies at its most accessible."
– Marcus Hall, Titular Professor, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich