Isle of Dogs – Clare Balding | Book Review | #IsleofDogs | Non-Fiction

Every dog must have his day.

Dogs are never just pets. Not for the British. We love them as members of the family. They work with us, sleep with us, eat with us, help us live our daily lives and come on holiday with us. Some parents will freely admit to enjoying the company of their dogs more than their children while many couples would choose the dog over their partner. So what is it that makes our bond so special?

In this fascinating adventure across Britain, Clare Balding explores the many roles dogs fulfil and the history of how they became such an intrinsic part of our lives. She talks to people whose everyday survival depends on their dog, those whose experience of life has been transformed by them and what dogs have meant to her.

From the mysteries of extinct breeds to the ancient dogs still thriving today, she journeys from Battersea to the Orkney Islands via Buckingham Palace to tell a moving and humorous tale of loyalty and partnership. Isle of Dogs is an unmissable read for anyone whose life has been transformed by a faithful hound.

Publisher: Ebury Press
Format: Ebook, Audio and Hardback (12 October 2023)
Source: Borrowed from library


This book was a joy to read and will definitely appeal to dog people. Clare Balding has undertaken research and visits across the British Isles to learn about every different aspect of dogs and their care – meeting breeders, trainers, and those at rescue centres and charities such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind. From the dog historians we learn about the creation of the Kennel Club, the beginnings of that British institution – the Crufts dog show (created in 1891 by Charles Cruft, a dog biscuit salesman) and much more, including the rather unusual reasons some people have for tracking down relatives who were show exhibitors. Celebrity dogs also feature, for example Olive and Mabel (the two labradors owned by sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter, who came to fame during the UK lockdown restrictions), as well as dogs of the Royal Household.

Clare Balding comes across in this book as I have seen her on TV. I am assuming that she wrote this herself because it has her voice throughout. The tone is enthusiastic, engaging, informative and especially humorous being peppered with personal dog related anecdotes. Claire’s wife Alice also features at times (I loved her dry and often pithy humour) particularly when accompanying Claire on some trips (Alice has her own chapter at the end). Their continuing sadness at the loss of their dog Archie during Covid lockdown comes through clearly. Having been in that position of having to make that heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to a much loved four pawed member of the family I could very much relate. As a lover of dogs … and books, I was particularly amused by the revelation of her parent’s sofas and chairs being covered in books – not to read but to try and keep the dogs off the furniture!

I was intrigued by one dog festival, founded in 2022 on the Goodwood estate (rather more known for its Festival of Speed and horse racing). Aptly named Goodwoof it sounds a lot of fun and when I do get my much wanted dog, I shall definitely check it out.

There are no photos included which is rather a shame but instead chapters are headed with dog illustrations (drawn by Crufts commentator Jessica Holm). Nevertheless I very much enjoyed this and have no hesitation in recommending to any dog lover.

CLARE BALDING is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who has been at the forefront of sports presentation since 1998. She has been a key anchor at seven Olympic and six Paralympic Games as well as multiple Commonwealth Games and Winter Olympics. She was awarded a special BAFTA in 2012 for her work at the London Olympics and Paralympics. In 2023, she took over as the lead BBC TV presenter at Wimbledon. She was a key commentator on the BBC’s television coverage of King Charles III’s Coronation in 2023 and for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee coverage in 2022. She has presented the television coverage of Crufts for nearly two decades and Lost Dogs Live on Channel 5, which helps reunite missing dogs with their owners. During most of her childhood she thought she was a dog and has tried to live with the mentality of a Labrador puppy: be pleased to see everyone and treat every new task as an exciting adventure. Her first book, My Animals and Other Family, was published in 2012 and won the National Book Award for biography of the year. In 2013, she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and in 2023 received a CBE for services to sport and charity in the Queen’s final Honours List.

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