Richard Adams was born in Newbury, Berkshire, England, in 1920. He served in the British Army from 1940 through 1946, during World War II. In 1948 Adams received a mater's degree from Worcester College at Oxford University. He worked as a civil servant from 1948 to 1974, and since 1974 has been a fulltime author.
Adams wrote his first novel, Watership Down, while still a civil servant in 1972. The novel won him the Carnegie Medal and was a large success in England, but did not bring him true fame until it was widely heralded in the United States. Adams has written several other novels, including Shardik (1974), The Plague Dogs (1977), and Traveller (1988). In 1991, he published an autobiography, The Day Gone By, and five years later published the sequel to Watership Down, entitled Tales From Watership Down (1996). Watership Down has remained Adams's most successful novel, popular with both adults and children. Although several of his other books have sold well, none of them has ever come close to reaching the critical acclaim of Watership Down. Adams is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.
Much of Watership Down takes place in the area where Richard Adams grew up. The detailed descriptions of the natural world in which the rabbits live, therefore, stem from his actual experiences. Adams has seen the places that he writes about; although the novel is fantasy, it is geographically accurate. Watership Down has been viewed as a statement about nature, an attempt to give us a glimpse into the beautiful yet removed world of the woods and grasslands.
Humankind destroys animals' environments at a frightening rate, and yet does so without any real knowledge of what it is doing. Adams presents rabbits as intelligent, caring, feeling creatures who undergo many trials and misfortunes for the sole purpose of finding a home where they can leave out their lives. The book often carries a tone that suggests that humanity has lost something it used to have—the ability to live free, as the rabbits do. The notion that people should live as a part of nature rather than apart from nature is a strong undercurrent that flows through much of the work.
Indeed, the novel's popularity stems not just from the enjoyable story itself, but also from the societal implications that can easily be found in it. At times, Watership Down is almost pleading in tone, suggesting that we still have time to stop our destruction of animals' homes before it is too late—an idea that appeals to many. However, the novel is not simply a message about the way we should treat animals. It is also a story about life, as the rabbits' lives in the rabbit warrens bring up many strong parallels to human societies. However Watership Down is read—as a political, social, or environmental critique or simply as a book about the search for a home and life—it is undoubtedly greatly influenced by the state of the natural world in the twentieth century and the role that humanity must play within that world.