Kathryn Shevelow, For the Love of Animals

What a lovely, lovely book of scholarship! All kinds of readers should discover Kathryn Shevelow's For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement, so I hope that eventually it'll escape academics' bookshelves into the larger world. Presumably publishers have some sort of metrics to predict the likelihood of this happening, but I have no idea why this one failed to break larger in 2008 when it was first published.

Not that all of For the Love of Animals is easy to read, mind you. When you spend any time learning about animal rights or animal welfare, you find yourself being dragged through some seriously dark passages, and Kathryn Shevelow takes you down those necessary roads into bull-baiting, cockpits, a monkey who killed dogs in the ring, horses worked until they starved in the street and beaten until their bones shattered....

And, okay, if I'm honest, maybe there aren't all THAT many people who want to read a history of British legislation, sprinkled with toxic images of violence against animals. As accurate a description as that might be, however, it's also a terribly, terribly limited way to characterize the reading experience of For the Love of Animals. Shevelow turns legislative history into a fairly chatty narrative of outsized personalities who happened to spend a lot of years failing to convince legislators to pass one law or another, and offers tips on which chapters and sections that the sentimental reader should skip over. The potential weight of these subjects simply isn't there.

Shevelow is a scholar of 18th-century studies, and that does skew her book toward her period of expertise. As academic reviews of her book point out, she doesn't spend as much time with 19th-century history as might be appropriate, and she luxuriates a bit with colourful 18th-century personalities (like my own favourite, Christopher Smart). Still, it's a thoughtful, engaging, powerful book, and I'd absolutely recommend it.

And if you need more evidence, there are some very thoughtful reviews out there:

Or maybe just watch Shevelow talk about the book, when she was summoned to chat with the good people at Google HQ: great stuff in this video, to match what you'll see in the book.


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