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The History of Human-Animal Relations (August 2017): Beyond Scholarship: Non-Fiction Writing on Animals

By J. Wendel Cox

Beyond Scholarship: Non-Fiction Writing on Animals

Reaktion’s success with “Animal” has spawned other similar series at its press, including “Botanical,” “Earth,” “Edible,” and “Objekt.” Reminiscent of the Victorian “it” stories so marvelously described in the essays in editor Mark Blackwell’s The Secret Life of Things: Animals, Objects, and It-Narratives in Eighteenth-Century England, these histories have a notable precursor in Mark Kurlansky’s extraordinary Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, the first title in his Basque Trilogy, which also includes The Basque History of the World and Salt: A World History. Like Kurlansky’s excellent works, many others have written outside of the scholarly sphere and provide significant accounts of animals and our relationships with them. Andrew D. Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird is one example of work that challenges, edifies, and entertains. Another on a similarly fraught creature is described in Robert Sullivan’s acclaimed Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Crow Planet reminds readers they share contemporary cities with animal communities, including crows both individually and collectively. Mark J. Hainds’s Year of the Pig is a fascinating account of the author’s exploration as a scientist and hunter of the enormous contemporary challenge of feral pigs in the United States and elsewhere in the world, yet another instance of the legacies of invasive species. Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took over the World may represent a new acme in writing that brings together interdisciplinary scholarship and historical perspectives, as well as by turns disturbing and charming anecdotes about our other best friend. Hal Herzog’s Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals helps readers with the seemingly endless contradictions in our relations with individual species and animals as a whole.