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Academic & Professional Books  Mammals  Insectivores to Ungulates  Rodents

Squirrel Nation Reds, Greys and the Meaning of Home

By: Peter Coates(Author)
335 pages, 8 plates with 10 colour photos and colour illustrations; 26 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Squirrel Nation
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  • Squirrel Nation ISBN: 9781789147704 Hardback Aug 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1 week
Price: £16.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

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

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Photo acknowledgements

Customer Reviews


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.

By: Peter Coates(Author)
335 pages, 8 plates with 10 colour photos and colour illustrations; 26 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Media reviews

"As we approach the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the grey squirrel to Britain, Peter Coates looks at how the greys have usurped the native red squirrel and how the country has reacted to this – not well is the answer. It's an entertaining read, pitting the villainous greys against the sanctified reds and drawing on multiple sources as diverse as parliamentary records to headlines from the Daily Star. "
This England

"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

"As Peter Coates's splendidly rich book demonstrates in deep cultural detail, the long 'squirrel wars' of 20th-century Britain are a microcosm of wider arguments about biological belonging and what he nicely terms 'the emotional ecology of home'."
The Guardian

"The fact is that, as Peter Coates makes clear in this magnificent survey of Britain's 'squirrel wars', there is little real difference between greys and reds, apart from the grey's greater adaptability and superior food-
finding skills [...] As its subtitle suggests, Coates's book – surely the best and most complete there will ever be on this subject – considers the deeper significance of the 'squirrel wars'."
Literary Review

"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

"Frisky, alert and as industrious as his subjects, Peter Coates brilliantly narrates the history of our entangled relationship with the squirrel, red and grey. We've kept them as pets and given them personalities, but also eaten them and put bounties on their heads; we've made the grey a regrettable symbol of irresistible Americanisation and the red an embattled but beautifully fragile symbol of Britain in decline. Squirrels continue indifferent, clinging on here, thriving there."
– Matthew Kelly, author of The Women Who Saved the English Countryside

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