How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance
|How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: This might be the most important book I've ever read - it's already changed my life by facilitating a decision I've been pondering for years. It gets the highest recommendation possible.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: April 2021|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
|External links: Author's website|
When we do think about animals, we break them down into species and groups: cows, dogs, foxes, elephants and so on. And we assign them places in society: cows go on plates, dogs on sofas, foxes in rubbish bins, elephants in zoos, and millions of wild animals stay out there, somewhere, hopefully on the next David Attenborough series.
I was going to argue. I mean, cows are for cheese (I couldn't consider eating red meat...) and I much prefer my elephants in the wild but then I realised that I was quibbling for the sake of it. Essentially that quote sums up my attitude to animals - and I consider myself an animal lover. If I had to choose between the company of humans and the company of animals, I would probably choose the animals. I insisted that I read this book: no one was trying to stop me but I was initially reluctant. I eat cheese, eggs, chicken and fish and I needed to either do so without guilt or change my choices. I suspected that making the decision would not be comfortable.
And it wasn't comfortable. Henry Mance does not spare your feelings. Paul McCartney said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian. Mance didn't have the benefit of a glass wall - he went and worked in a slaughterhouse. The facts are dealt with sensitively but you'll be left in no doubt about what happens and how the animals must feel about it. But before we get there we have a brief history of man's relationship with animals and the twin developments of conservation and factory farming.
For such a serious subject, the style of writing is engaging whilst still being thought-provoking:
We warm to politicians who cuddle animals; their pets would be re-elected more easily than they would.
I don't want to tell my daughters that the reason we destroyed the natural world is because it tasted delicious.
Sometimes I felt guilty for laughing out loud, particularly over the fishing lesson.
This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long time. I've never liked the idea of hunting in any form but Mance shows that it is, in fact, necessary. Where predators have been removed through human intervention and a species gets out of control it's often necessary to cull some animals for the greater good of the herd. Yes - I could see that - and I revised my thinking on hunting. Then Mance flipped the subject on its head and pointed out that the most-out-of-control species on the planet is the human: how's your neighbour going to feel about being randomly picked off whilst on his way to the shops?
As I read, my guilt-free food choices dwindled both from the point of view of the lives of the animals concerned and ecologically. Clothing and footwear became problematic: I eventually decided that Oxfam (or another charity shop) would suffice as I would, at least, not be buying new. Strangely enough, even a vegan can eat mussels, oysters and clams: I'll let you read the book to understand the reasoning behind the statement. Fish is not a starter, either the farmed or the wild varieties.
Going to the zoo is not going to be the pleasure some people have thought it to be: I never liked it any more than I ever liked circuses. I much prefer my animals to be in the wild, but I'd never before thoroughly examined the claims about conservation and breeding and - frankly - they don't stand up.
So, where was I at the end of the book? Going vegetarian is the first step but I do see it as a step on the way to becoming vegan. This book has been truly life-changing and I'd like to thank the publishers for making a copy available to the Bookbag. I've already bought a copy for my niece and I suspect that it will be the first of many.
You could shelve How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World next to 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari and hope that this is a lesson we do learn.
If you'd like to better understand your dog, try Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler if you'd like some related fiction.
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