Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Story of the Bird That Powers Civilization
Andrew Lawler
Sociology, biology, history

This book could have been entitled 1001 Fascinating Anecdotes About Chickens. I like fascinating anecdotes as well as the next guy, but when the title of your book is a "why" question I expect a little bit more in the way of insight, analysis, and explanation. This could have been a terrific website; as a book it's a little thin, and a little lacking in connective tissue. The chapters stand alone, instead of contributing to a narrative whole.

Having gotten that off my (all-white-meat) chest, Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? is actually a pretty good and very informative read. Chickens, it turns out, have had cross-cultural symbolic and religious importance, in addition to their culinary contributions. The importance of the latter is relatively recent, and is the result of deliberate human engineering as much as anything: the bird is really something of a Frankenchicken compared to its wild relatives. 

No book on chickens, sadly, would be complete without a discussion of factory farming. The one in WDtCCtW isn't gratuitously gruesome, but it's there. I won't attempt to editorialize, as in practice I am a hypocrite on this subject.

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