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Giveaway: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley (INTERNATIONAL)

December 6, 2014 1 comment

Close-up of an elephant's eyeIt’s the penultimate giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  I was so happy to be able to offer so many giveaways this year! Thanks to the indie authors and indie publishing houses that made it possible.

There are TWO ebook versions of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) available courtesy of the author, Samuel Hawley!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) by Samuel Hawley.

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating the coolest fact you know about elephants.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: December 13th.  One week from today!

Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley

December 6, 2014 2 comments

Close-up of an elephant's eyeSummary:
When Far Stream is still a young elephant in the late 1800s, not yet full grown and learning from her mother, aunties, and grandmother, humans trap and capture her and other members of her herd.  She is shipped to America and sold to a traveling circus.  Over the years, she slowly comes to be known as a bad elephant who must be put down.  But is she really bad?

Review:
I was quite excited when this book was submitted to me for review.  A piece of historic fiction from the perspective of an animal, focusing on animal rights problems in the circus? Such a perfect fit!  This is a well-researched and written piece of historic fiction that eloquently depicts the minds of elephants as similar to and yet different from those of humans.

The book opens with a scene of a so-called bad elephant about to be executed.  The humans state they are doing so humanely and nothing can be done because the elephant has gone rogue and killed too many  humans.  The book then flashes back to see the elephant’s life from the elephant’s perspective, leaving it up to the reader to determine if the elephant is actually bad.  The humans calls her Topsy, but her elephant name is actually Far Stream.  What follows in the flashback is a delicately handled and clearly exquisitely researched tale of the life of a circus elephant in the late 1800s in the US.

From the beginning, the author makes it clear that elephants are intelligent, with lives, families, and emotions of their own.  Quite a bit of this is backed up by science, such as elephants crying and also mourning dead members of the herd.  There are also those who think that elephants might communicate via sign language and/or telepathically, and the book fully embraces both ideas.  What results in telling this tale from the elephant’s perspective is a scene of one intelligent species enslaved by another that is heartbreaking to read.  What really makes the story work, though, is that the author strikes the perfect balance between showing the horror of being a circus elephant and also not fully demonizing humans.  There are good humans (trainers and non-trainers) who love the elephants and treat them well but simply do not understand that elephants are more intelligent and have a richer emotional life than they give them credit for and by simply keeping them away from the roaming herd life they were made for they are hurting them.

Everything about the circus in the late 1800s in the US was clearly thoroughly researched by the author.  The historic setting and ways of life flow smoothly and fit perfectly within the plot.  They are presented simply as reality without any unfortunate modern commentary or forcing of unnaturally modern ideas into the plot.  Reading this book truly transported me back in time, and it was fascinating and enjoyable, as well as heartbreaking.

Although the reader knows from the beginning that Far Stream will be executed, how she gets there is still a mystery and is handled delicately enough that the plot has momentum.

The one bit that didn’t really work for me is how the book presents what appears to be elephant spirituality.  There is one scene where Far Stream and another elephant appear to hallucinate, and it is never entirely clear what actually happened.  Similarly the ending goes to an odd spiritual place that just left me confused, rather than in the strong emotional state I was in the moments immediately prior to this.  I found the elephant spirituality bits to be a touch confusing that lessened the emotional strength of the rest of the book, which came across much more matter-of-fact.  Some readers may enjoy and relate to the spiritual aspect more than I did, however.

Overall, this is a piece of thoroughly researched historic fiction with a smooth moving plot and an empathetic, well-rounded main character.  It clearly demonstrates how animals humans once thought were less intelligent and less emotional than we now know them to be came to be mistreated, setting up a precedent for that mistreatment that to some extent continues to this day.  Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historic fiction and animal main characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard

July 19, 2014 4 comments

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.Summary:
Maria is working on her thesis at a genetics research lab specializing in looking for ways to get human limbs to regenerate.  When the owner’s son brings back a new species from Peru, a tiny worm-like creature with pyramidal tentacles, she discovers that the larger clones made from them are intelligent.  But the owner’s son wants to conduct brutal experiments on them, involving cutting off their appendages, which grow back.  Can Maria strike the balance between life-changing science for humans suffering from disabled or missing limbs and respecting the lives of an intelligent species?

Review:
Near-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine.  It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and scifi lets us explore the myriad possibilities and options at a bit of a distance, which allows for clearer thought.  This book does an admirable job setting up a realistic near-future world to explore this issue, although the characters don’t quite live up to the world-building and story.

The near-future world of genetics research is established both clearly and with subtlety early on in the book.  There are two competing genetics research organizations, and rather than looking into something monstrous or far-flung, they are looking into regenerating limbs.  It’s a logical next-step for a near-future book.  The research labs themselves, as well as how they are run, including the field-work, have a real-world, logical feel to them.

At first I was concerned from the book’s official description that the creatures discovered would be aliens, since alien experimentation would be less of a gray area to explore.  They are not, in fact, aliens, they are a newly discovered species originating on Earth.  The mystery is whether they were always sentient or if something in the modification and cloning process made them sentient.  This makes the conflict of how to use the creatures to help humans without harming them better, because exactly what they are is a bit unclear.  It’s not as simple as if they were simply aliens or some sort of cute, fuzzy creature.  They’re these slightly creepy worm-like things with tentacles, and the conflict is do we still respect these kind of ugly, cloned creatures for their intelligence, or do they need to look cuter or more humanoid to gain that respect?

The plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing.  Even though I was fairly certain things would ultimately end up ok, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get there.  This made it an engaging and quick read.

Unfortunately, the characters are rather weak and two-dimensional.  I never was able to truly connect to any of the characters.  If anything, I connected to the creatures a bit more than the main characters.  There are also a few instances that feel out of character for the small amount of characterization done.  For instance, Maria thinks she can’t date because her family wants her to have an arranged marriage to keep the family Spanish.  This type of arranged marriage situation could definitely happen, but I had a hard time believing that a woman so strong in the sciences, with so much agency for her career and for her grandmother’s well-being would actually even think about not seeing someone she cares for in order to have an arranged marriage.  It felt out of character and simply forced upon her to add conflict.  Similarly, there is an incident that at first is considered a rape and then later brushed off as not a rape.  Without giving anything away, I agree it wasn’t a rape, but I also don’t think the character who at first mistook it for a rape would have made that error in judgment.  It was out of character for their level of intelligence.  This again felt forced to provide extra conflict that wasn’t needed.  The main plot had plenty of interest and conflict to keep the book going without these out-of-character moments.  I also felt the accent written for one of the characters was badly done and distracting.  This character is a scientist with an advanced degree, yet he speaks in an informal, unrealistic accent that primarily consists of him dropping g’s and using a lot of contractions.

In spite of these characterization short-comings, the book still tells a unique near-future genetics research story with a quick-moving, engaging plot.  Recommended to those looking for a scifi-style beach read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Siren by John Everson

January 3, 2013 2 comments

Woman crawling out of the ocean onto a rock.Summary:
Evan walks the seacoast of his small town every night reliving the horror of watching his son drown.  But one night he hears a beautiful song and discovers a perfectly naked, perfectly beautiful woman attached to it.  As he begins an affair, willfully oblivious to anything about the woman beyond her beauty, he fails to realize he is falling for the siren of Delilah.

Review:
I picked this up during one of the monthly kindle book sales on a whim, and am I glad I did!  This book was simultaneously terrifying and electrifying.  The flip-flop between fear and titillation was a truly delightful reading experience, and it came with a well thought-out plotline and delicious settings to boot.

Evan is not a likeable guy. In fact, Ligeia, the Siren, is more likable than he is, and she routinely rips people’s throats out with just her teeth.  But disliking Evan works for the story.  It lets the reader invest in Ligeia and see her side of things.  There are ways in which she is a monster, yes, but there are also ways in which she is quite human.  Having a deeply flawed male “victim” to her charms allows the reader to see the monster in us all.

Both the horror and the sex scenes are adeptly written.  The sex scenes are titillating without being too much, and, similarly, the horrific scenes are grotesque without going too far.  The presence of both in the story makes for an ever-changing, exciting read.  Similarly, the plot is complex without being overly so and managed to keep me guessing.  It also strikes the balance quite well.

I also really enjoyed the light commentary on hunting and eating another species.  It provides a depth to the story beyond simply lust leading one astray.

Kind of puts a whole new spin on fishing, doesn’t it?  Here you men are always out there reeling in the fish, and here’s a half-fish woman who’s reeling in the men.  (page 146)

Of course, there is also commentary on cheating and the other woman. There has to be, since Ligeia is Evan’s mistress.  I must admit that that basic plot can sometimes upset me, so I do think it distracted me a bit from enjoying the book as much as I would have otherwise.  On a similar note, the ending is not quite what I would have hoped for, although it did make sense in the context of the story.

Overall, this is an interesting mix of horror and erotica that is fast-paced and enjoyable.  Those sensitive to cheating as a plot device or explicit deaths may want to exercise caution.  Recommended to those who would enjoy their horror and erotica together.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Animal Rights Poetry: 25 Inspirational Animal Poems, Vol 1 by Jenny Moxham (Series, #1)

Drawng of a little girl hugging a pig next to a goose.Summary:
A collection of 25 poems focusing on a variety of animal rights issues by British animal rights activist Jenny Moxham.

Review:
I picked this up because one of the blogs I follow mentioned it was on sale (for 100% off), and I figured there had to be at least one poem in there that I would find inspirational.  Of course, there was.

The poems are mostly written in rhyme, a vibe that feels very similar to Mother Goose style children’s poetry.  Some of them worked better than others, but it’s certainly a fine style choice.  It’s easier to remember rhymes than almost any other sort of poetry.

Personally, I preferred the poems that contained solid arguments to use when debating animal rights issues.  My favorite, is this one:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve often heard it said by folk
Who relish eating meat,
“The animals were put on Earth
For human beings to eat.”

Well if God made them just for us,
Explain it, if you can,
Why they arrived one hundred million
Years ahead of man

(location 95)

I was less of a fan of ones addressing particular events, because I think those would be less useful in more general animal rights work.  I also was surprised by how many of the poems were about Christmas.  Perhaps Christmas is a meatier affair in the UK, but in a book with only 25 poems, having five about one holiday felt like a bit much.

Overall, Moxham’s talent and passion do shine through, but a more varied and longer collection would have been more enjoyable.  Recommended to those with an interest in memorable phrases to use in animal rights work.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Mount by Carol Emshwiller (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Man in reins and bit.Summary:
Charley is an 11 year old Seattle and wants to be the best mount there is for his owner, Little Master.  He eats his dry cakes, practices on the go-round, and behaves well.  Little Master mostly likes their lessons.  His ears wiggle, so Charley knows he’s giggling.  But one day Wilds attack the village.  They say that people are meant to be people, not mounts for Hoots.  But the Hoots say the mounts were made for them, see how the primate species are perfectly designed for riding?  It’s all very confusing for Charley.

Review:
It doesn’t take much guess-work to figure out how this wound up on my TBR pile.  It’s a rather obvious allegory for animal rights, although instead of apes enslaving people like in Planet of the Apes, it’s an alien species with cat-like ears and weak legs enslaving humans.  The concept is a good one, but the execution fell short for me, which is sad, because I wanted to love it.

The structure of the book is problematic.  The first chapter is from the perspective of an entirely random Hoot who we never see again. Ever.  We also never see his mount again.  This is just weird.  The rest of the book is told from the first person perspective of Charley, except for one random chapter narrated by his father.  I don’t mind switching perspectives, but there should be some sort of consistency about it, and we should have at least a vague idea who the character in the new perspective is.

I also found myself completely baffled by Charley.  In spite of being enslaved by the Hoots, he still wishes to use a bit one day and other things that drive his father nuts, and one cannot help but agree with his father.  He never seems to really learn better through the book either.  He persists in loving his Hoot and being a mount for his Hoot.  That doesn’t work as an allegory for animal rights or slavery.

Emshwiller does show how teenage boys clash with their fathers very well, however.  Charley’s relationship with his dad, Heron, is well fleshed-out and intriguing.  They want to connect and love each other but struggle with how, exactly, to do that when they are so different yet so similar.  Looking back, this relationship is what kept me reading.  It shines in spite of the other oddities in the book.

I won’t spoil it, but the ending bothered me as well, and I found it profoundly confusing.  In fact, I’d say for the book as a whole I am simply left perplexed by it.  I feel like I missed something or didn’t quite get an accurate picture of the world they are living in or something.

Overall, it’s a very different take on humans being enslaved by another species, but its execution is rather disappointing.  Recommended to readers with a marked interest in scifi depictions of human slavery.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls by Brian K. Vaughan (Series, #7) (Graphic Novel)

Summary:
Our trifecta of heroes have successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean and are now on the seacoast of Australia.  Yorick naturally insists on looking for his long-lost girlfriend in the drug-infested city of Sydney.  Meanwhile, Dr. Mann gets wooed by the one-eyed sailor rescued from the pirate ship in the previous book.  We also learn more of Ampersand the monkey’s backstory.

Review:
It probably comes as no surprise that I am still loving this series, although I am super-grateful to have one containing so many issues to be holding up so well!  Although I’m not a big fan of the Dr. Mann being duped story, the other two more than make up for it.

Seeing Sydney torn apart by heroin provides a different scenario in this post-apocalyptic world.  We’ve seen the women fall to violence, over-monitoring, and chaos, but we haven’t seen the self-medication reaction yet.  The scenes with the women on heroin are sad and poignant.  The perfect backdrop to Yorick’s story.

Naturally as an animal lover and animal rights person I love Ampersand’s backstory.  Originally abused and destined for a research lab, his shipping got mixed up and wound up with Yorick to be trained to be a helper animal instead.  How this ties in with Dr. Mann is disturbing and the perfect set-up for the next issue.  After seeing all he’s been through, I really hope they find Ampersand the next issue!

Overall, the art and story are consistently good and in spite of being the seventh in a long series the storyline has not gotten out of hand or become dull.  This is an excellent entry that will leave fans craving more!

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series
Y: The Last Man: Unmanned (review)
Y: The Last Man: Cycles (review)
Y: The Last Man: One Small Step (review)
Y: The Last Man: Safeword (review)
Y: The Last Man: Ring of Truth (review)
Y: The Last Man: Girl on Girl (review)

Friday Fun! (Cool People I Follow!)

March 2, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I don’t have too terribly much to update you on today since I managed to get bronchitis “with a touch of strep” and have been down for the count all week.  I am on antibiotics now.  They are a beautiful beautiful thing.  Anyway, so since my life this week has mostly consisted of laying around with a fever watching Big Bang Theory and Battlestar Galactica on repeat, I thought I’d do something different today and let you guys know about a few unique folks I follow in my GoogleReader that you might want to check out.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog is a book blog I just recently discovered that focuses in on the literature of Australia and New Zealand.  The instant I saw the title of the blog I went, “Wow, duh, what a gap in my reading!”  She has a great page featuring a listing of must read ANZ lit titles.

Joe’s Blog is one of the few author blogs I follow (as opposed to authors who happen to have book blogs.  I follow a few of those).  Joseph Robert Lewis is an indie author whose books are available as ebooks, and he is a smart dude.  Not only does he write scifi/fantasy/steampunk with a feminist slant out of a desire to write the types of books he wants to be available for his daughters to read, he’s also a really giving guy.  He has a great section of advice for fellow writers looking to self-publish and maintains a great relationship with his readers (um, including me).  His blog itself is an awesome mix of posts on what inspires his scifi/fantasy/steampunk worlds, his own life, and musings on writing.  Oh, also, he came up with this awesome idea for a series co-written by a bunch of authors who have never met before all set in the same universe, and he’s actually pulling it off.  The dude is creative and productive.  Check him out, even if his books aren’t your genre.

Native Appropriations is run by fellow Boston gal, Adrienne, who is a member of the Cherokee tribe and currently studying for her PhD.  Her posts discuss representation and appropriation of Native American culture in American pop culture and media.  Her posts are thought-provoking and eloquent.  Seriously, get rid of your People Magazine and Cosmo subscriptions and read what this smart lady has to say instead.

No Meat Athlete is run by a male vegan who also is, you guessed it, an athlete.  He primarily runs marathons, but his posts feature great information for any type of athlete or fitness fan who is plant-based.  I particularly found his post 7 Secrets of Post Work-out Recovery super useful for this plant-based weight-lifting lady.  He’s also going to be doing the Boston Marathon. Yeahhhhh!

Finally, for everything vegan from vegans in the news to animal rights to product reviews, definitely follow Vegansaurus.  They are my go-to site for sane animal rights coverage (unlike PETA *cough*).  They also feature real life help this one situation here this one time if you can shout-outs that help me feel connected to the animal rights community.  (Like one time we all got together to help a gal get her pup needed surgery, because, you know, who actually has insurance for their pets?)  Between that, the cookbook reviews, the recipes, the products, and the news bits, it’s one of my favorite news sources.

I hope you all found some new reading material.  Happy weekends!

Book Review: Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Diet for a New America Reading Project, Book 1)

January 22, 2012 10 comments

Red white and blue book coverSummary:
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins.  A company based entirely on selling animal products.  Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall.  This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.

Review/Discussion:
This is the first book in the Diet for a New America Reading Project 2012 I am hosting.  The project is focused on educating ourselves on the facts behind health and preventative medicine for the well-being of all Americans, an issue that I am sure we can all agree is a serious one.  If you join the project late, please feel free to come back to this post or the GoodReads group after you’ve finished the book to join in on the discussion.  And now, on to the book!

There are books that you read that are so incredibly powerful you are left almost speechless.  Simply wanting to hand out copies to everyone you know, everyone you meet and say, “Please, read this.”  I highlighted so much in my copy that I couldn’t even do my usual of posting all highlighted quotes to my tumblr.  I discovered I was practically illegally reproducing the book, hah.  😉  I thus will do my best to highlight precisely why I find this book trustworthy, why I feel inspired by John Robbins, and the most stunning facts I learned while reading the book.

Why You Should Trust This Book
As a medical librarian, I was very careful to check out Robbins’ resources for his facts, particularly for the health section, which is what this project is focused upon.  Robbins drew his research from vetted, peer-reviewed, well-respected scientific journals, including ones I routinely use in my own work, such as Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Journal of Medicine, and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  He also cites the studies of such organizations as the FDA, the EPA, and the National Cancer Institute.  Additionally, he conducted personal interviews with real factory farmers and scientists.  Additionally, all of his citations are in order.  You may not like the facts he reports, but they are still scientifically backed-up facts.

The fact that John Robbins researched the effects of animal derived foods on the environment and people and decided that it is bad for everyone involved is remarkable when you consider the fact that he comes from a family whose business is based entirely on selling dairy to Americans.  If the man had an innate bias, it would absolutely be on the side of carnists/omnivores, but he astoundingly conducted the research and came down on the side veg*ism.  (His family reunions must really be something…)  This not only makes me respect him, but trust him.  Somebody must be truly convinced to convert away from a business that has made his family, and presumably himself if he had agreed to take over the business, extremely wealthy.

But enough about why this book is trustworthy.  Let’s move on to discuss the astounding scientific facts revealed in the three different sections: animal rights and factory farming, health consequences of eating animal based products, and environmental consequences of meat-based diets.

Animal Rights and Factory Farming
I definitely believe this knowledge is more widely spread than when this book was first published.  I have a hard time imagining growing up in America and not coming to understand the horrors of factory farming, but you never know.  Robbins talks about the psychiatric fact that children who grow up abusing animals are more likely to become criminals in later life.  This, of course, is a basic reason to not base an entire sector of the American economy around factory farms that treat animals horribly like cogs in a machine.  Of course there are more reasons to treat animals well, such as the fact that dogs’ EEG scans are identical to human’s or that dolphins routinely save humans and other animals in the ocean or that many species of animals mate for life showing a dedication most humans can’t pull off.

The horrors of factory farming are so extensive that it’s difficult to even list them.  I feel as if I could go on and on.  Perhaps the best way is to tell you to imagine being in the most crowded elevator possible.  Now imagine that 20 of the 24 hours you’re in there it’s dark.  You’re standing on a slanted, slatted, metal floor.  The food for everyone is all on one side and is dumped in all at once and you must shove and race to get to it.  Of course it’s difficult to even call this food.  It’s a mix of shit, paper, sawdust, chemicals, and antibiotics all spiked with yet another chemical to make it smell better to you.  If you are female, then a hand periodically reaches in and artificially inseminates you, only to rip your baby away from you the instant it is born and hitch machines up to your mammary glands instead of allowing your milk to go to your baby.  If you are male, you are castrated by placing a band around your testicles until they fall off after weeks of the circulation being cut off.

That is the reality for factory farmed animals.  Even if you can manage to ignore the fact that these animals are being pumped full of chemicals and artificial growth hormones that you will then ingest yourself when you eat them or their products, that is still a horrifying way to get your food.  These animals live in terror and pain and die in terror and pain.  There is nothing natural about a factory farm.  Animals were meant to live outside and graze and nurse their babies and maybe live in a herd or a flock.  Not be caged up in situations so unnatural that they literally go crazy and cannibalize each other when they are naturally herbivores.  That is the reality of what you are supporting when you buy factory-farmed animal products.

Human Health
Ok, so maybe now you don’t believe in factory farming, but what about eating animals in general?  We were raised to believe that a healthy diet involves meat, dairy, and eggs, right?  Surely if an animal is raised organically and humanely all will be well?  Well, the meat and dairy lobbyists have done a LOT of work to hide from you the scientific studies that show their products are unhealthy for you.  If you read only a portion of this book, read the health section.  It is impossible for me in this discussion and review to make as eloquent a point as Robbins does.  I will instead sum it up for you.

In scientific studies published in reputable scientific journals such as JAMA, vegetarians have drastically less occurrence of: heart disease, all cancers, strokes, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypoglycemia, multiple sclerosis, ulcers, IBS, arthritis, kidney stones, gallstones, hypertension, anemia, and asthma.  Those who still have any of the chronic diseases are distinctly less symptomatic than the meat-eaters.  Vegans (people who consume no animal products whatsoever) have even LOWER occurrences than vegetarians.  This is vetted by multiple different studies run by different scientists in multiple nations.  Even simply comparing the data of these diseases between countries following the standard American diet and those following a primarily plant-based diet backs these statistics up.

I am sure that those of you who read the book as I did were stunned to hear that these studies have been in the reputable journals since as early as the late 1960s and 1970s and yet we have not heard about them.  Who is to blame?  The meat and dairy lobbyists of course.  What would happen to their businesses if the American people suddenly stopped following the standard American diet?  The Dairy Council provides the nutritional packets at your kids’ schools.  Think about that.

The Environment
The environmental impact of a meat-based diet has started to crop up more often recently with the increased interest in the green movement.  Essentially, Robbins primarily reiterates what I believe most of us already know.  The chemicals necessary to factory farm are bad for the whole planet.  It takes more fossil-fuel energy, more water, and more acreage to feed one person a meat-based diet than a plant-based diet.  These are things that are definitely relevant, particularly to people who don’t believe in human population control.  What I personally found most interesting in this section though was the discovery that American imports meat from Central and South American nations who have been destroying rainforest to do so, and their people are still overwhelmingly on a meat-based diet.  Thus these nations are destroying their own ecologies to support Americans’ wasteful meat-based diets.  That is just disgusting and selfish on our parts.

My Conclusion
I am honestly a bit shocked at the extent of the facts that I didn’t know when I became a vegetarian in January of 2006.  I admit I mostly became one out of an empathy for animals that I have always strongly felt, but additionally the less meat I ate, the better I felt.  Becoming a vegetarian mostly eliminated the symptoms of my IBS as the scientific studies Robbins cites showed.  But….I have a hard time imagining anyone reading the facts like this and not drastically changing their eating habits.  So many of the economic and personal problems in the US today have to do with health.  So maybe you’ve read this book and you still don’t care about animals and you still believe humans are better than them.  But don’t you want to be as healthy as you can be for your lifetime?  Wouldn’t you rather be a happy, healthy grandparent than a stooped-over one on multiple heart medications or going through chemotherapy?  Even if you don’t care about that, don’t you want to leave a healthier planet for your children and your children’s children?  The facts unequivocally show that the fewer animal products you consume, the better all of these outcomes will be.

Once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. (page 379)

Source: Better World Books

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Discussion Questions:

  • Robbins believes that the scientific studies reported in the medical journals aren’t well-known because of the meat and dairy lobbies.  Do you think this is the case?  Why or why not?
  • If you do think the facts aren’t known because of the meat and dairy lobbies, how can we combat this?
  • If you don’t think the lobbyists have anything to do with the lack of public knowledge of these issues, what do you think the true cause is?
  • Do you believe the fight for organic animal farming is doing anything to help the environmental and health issues cited in the book?
  • What do you think can be done to get the meat and dairy lobbyists out of our schools?
  • Would you be willing to change your diet knowing the facts about the diseases it can cause or do you think it’s not worth the effort?
  • Do you believe money is better spent on treating the disease or preventing the disease?
  • Do you think world hunger can be successfully combated with a change in the diets of those in the first world countries?

Book Review: Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

December 5, 2011 1 comment

Tony hugging a lion.Summary:
Tony Fitzjohn never quite fit in in England or the middle class existence he was adopted into at a young age.  By his early 20s, he was roaming around Africa, and eventually found a job with George–the elderly Englishman famous for his belief in reintroducing lions into the wild whose efforts were chronicled in Born Free.  In his biography, Tony accounts the steps in his life that led up to his assistantship with George, the two decades he spent learning from him in Kenya, and the efforts he himself has made in Tanzania’s parks.

Review:
This autobiography (memoir?) is an example of how you can not particularly like a person but still admire and respect the work they do.  I know I would never in a million years get along with Tony.  He’s hard-headed, stubborn, a womanizer (prior to getting married in his 40s), matured very late in his life, and can be remarkably short-sighted in how his actions affect others.  And yet.

And yet he has an incredible passion for animals and the environment.  He’s faced down poachers, corrupt government employees, and charging rhinos with frankly, balls of iron.  All for the love of not just the big cats like lions and leopards, but rhinos and wild dogs as well.  I find it fascinating how his love of adventure gradually showed him that animals are not ours to use and abuse.  I wish I had had the time to copy the quote exactly from the book before I had to return it to the library, but essentially he says that we are meant to be stewards of the land that all the rest of the non-human animals need to survive and do what they’re meant to do.  He talks at length about how rhinos often don’t get as much attention because they don’t form a bond, really, with their caretakers the way orphaned big cats do, but that’s not who they are!  Rhinos are aggressive, love fighting each other.  They fight and they mate and that’s what they do and that’s beautiful because that’s who they are.  Letting animals be who they are and do what they do–that’s our real role as humans.

Of course, the animal rights message doesn’t really come out until the end of the memoir.  The beginning is Tony reflecting on his childhood and early years in Africa.  He traveled all over the continent a lot, never really sticking to one country until he met George and stayed put in Kenya for quite a while at the Kora reserve.  At times the writing when he’s recounting his life can be a bit dull.  He seems more focused on naming everyone he ever came across than in telling a story.  This holds true up until the trust sends him to AA and after that he meets his now-wife Lucy.  From then on it is as if a haze is lifted and his passion for everyone around him, the animals, and his family comes through.  I have no doubt that this is at least in part due to his no longer drinking.  It is clear that there are swaths of the prior years that he does not recall.  He even recounts one story that a friend told him when staging his intervention of him getting into a bar fight that he doesn’t even remember happening.  All this is to say, the first half or so of the book is fun bits of lions mixed in between rather dull sections of him just getting the information through to the reader that will be important later.

But the elements with the lions that hold us over in the meantime are absolutely worth it.  It is evident that through all of Tony’s flaws, he has a natural ability to work with big cats and an innate understanding and love of them.  He does not doubt their ability to feel emotions or communicate with people.

Sheba [lioness] had been so fond of her brother that when he died, she had led George to the spot, watched him bury Suleiman [her brother], and then sat on the grave for days, refusing to leave him alone. (page 112)

He also has an understanding of human society and mores and how they affect the animal world that comes through abundantly clearly:

By pushing up the price of oil, Sheikh Yamani and his cohorts had multiplied the Yemeni GDP sevenfold. A rhino-horn dagger is a symbol of manhood in Yemen, so an entire species was all but wiped out in order that a load of newly oil-rich Yemenis could have fancy dagger handles. (page 76)

When he writes of the poachers and big game hunters fighting with the environmentalists for control of the land, I was aghast at the methods both groups used.  They often would kill a big cat, cut off its head and paws, then skin it and leave it right in the environmentalists’ path.  This level of cold-heartedness and cruelty baffles me.  Although one could possibly argue that the poachers saw this atrocity as the only way out of poverty, there is zero excuse for the wealthy, white big game hunters who just callously view it as sport.

I suppose some people may see Tony’s and other western people’s work in Africa for the animals as neocolonialist.  I don’t see it that way at all.  Tony by nature of his upbringing had the wealthy connections needed to fund projects working with the animals.  When Kenya and Tanzania were caught up in civil wars and reestablishing their nations, even wealthy Africans would most likely donate that money toward people, not animals.  Plus, Tony’s work has provided stable employment to Tanzanians and Kenyans for over 20 years, as well as bringing in more tourism.  Tony himself points out that a lot of the big animals were gone due to colonial big game hunters, and he views his work as a sort of retribution for the colonial period.  I perhaps wouldn’t take it that far, but I do see his point.

One thing I will say, though, is I do view it very hypocritical that Tony sends his own children away to a wealthy boarding school in Kenya rather then sending them to the school located in the park in Tanzania that his trust set up and runs.  If it’s good enough for the Tanzanian kids, why isn’t it good enough for his own?  That stung of elitism to me.

Although the book can be slow-moving at times, the good bits make up for it.  Tony and his work for animal rights are inspirational.  His life shows how much one person can accomplish by taking it one step at a time.

I pulled myself together and thought about what George would do. Of course I knew already. George would put his head down and keep going, one step at a time. It was the way he approached everything. (page 184)

Overall, I recommend this memoir to nonfiction lovers with a passion for Africa, environmentalism, or animal rights.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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