A prickly relationship

Hugh Warwick is an ecologist who has spent 20 years of his life working with hedgehogs. They are cute, Warwick admits, but something beyond cuteness inspires passion, even obsession in hedgehog devotees. (Britain, God love 'er, is apparently full of "little hedgehog hospitals doing an amazing job with limited resources.")

This is a book about our relationship with the hedgehog; no other animal, Warwick writes, allows us to get so close.

Warwick describes the biology, physiology and general behavior of hedgehogs (rolling up in a ball to discourage predators, the perils and beauty of the nocturnal life and their relationship with fleas).

Warwick is delightfully nerdy: "Love did not blossom immediately," he writes of his fascination. "I suppose in the beginning we had more of a friendship and a working relationship. But I want to jump forward to the juicy bits."

These include, as you can imagine, an unusual definition of the term "juicy bits," including scientists who eat their quarry, the bizarre behavior of hedgehog hunters and mating rituals (human and hedgehog) in the Orkney Islands.

There's more than a whiff of the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell here -- his humor, affection and never-ending curiosity. "We are most willing to change ourselves in the grip of true love," Warwick writes. "True love, not the sort that tends to infect our appreciation of the natural world. ... Sentimental love is superficial; it does not offer much."

Hedgehogs in love, Warwick simplifies to make a point, can't get close to each other without hurting each other, so they back away. In a similar fashion, we humans can't get close to the natural world without harming it: "The dilemma we face is in trying to get close enough to the wild without corrupting it out of existence."