History Book Club alternate selection, September, 2008

The extraordinary story of how we began to legally protect animals

In eighteenth-century England—where cockfighting and bullbaiting drew large crowds, and the abuse of animals was routine—the idea of animal protection was dismissed as laughably radical. But as more people crowded into cities and increasing numbers shared their lives with pets, attitudes toward animals began changing, assisted by an unlikely assortment of exceptional people. An unconventional duchess defended their intellect in her writings. A gentleman scientist lamented the suffering of nimals used for experimentation, while a few brave clergymen scandalized their congregations by preaching that even beasts have souls. Some members of parliament, including an eccentric former lord chancellor and an evangelical abolitionist, began the long, arduous struggle to give animals legal protection. And when the cause was finally taken up by Richard Martin--a flamboyant but compassionate Irishman who would become known throughout Britain as “Humanity Dick”--the lives of beasts and, correspondingly, men and women, would change forever.

Kathryn Shevelow gives us the dramatic story of the bold reformers who braved attacks because they sympathized with the plight of creatures everywhere; while she also tells of the changes in attitudes that would make their reforms possible. Historical luminaries from all walks of life had much to say on the subject of animals: Samuel Pepys described the “rude and nasty pleasure” of bullbaiting in his famous diaries, Alexander Pope pleaded for compassion in a well-known essay, and William Hogarth engraved one of the most powerful anti-cruelty polemics ever created. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the celebrated playwright, spoke passionately on their behalf in the House of Commons, and William Wilberforce, who led the struggle to end the slave trade, also helped to found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But more than just a historical account, this book is an eye-opening exploration of how our feelings toward animals reveal our ideas about ourselves, mercy, God, and nature.

Accessible and lively, For the Love of Animals is a ground-breaking cultural narrative that takes us into the lives of animals—and into the minds of humans—at a transforming moment in history.

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For the Love of Animals is an absorbing, rich book—I learned much and it made me think more deeply about the relationship between humans and animals. A fresh new voice has been added to the growing literature about the complexity of the rights of animals.”

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep

“This shocking book tells the story of the brave, eccentric individuals who worked to stop heartless animal abuses in 17th and 18th century England.  For the Love of Animals is essential reading for people interested in both the history of legislation to protect animals, and animal ethics issues.”

Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation

“Richard Martin, named ‘Humanity Dick’ by King George IV, remains a hero to all who believe that kindness is indeed a virtue. He not only founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now the RSPCA) together with William Wilberforce, but fought hard for legislation to help the poor and illiterate.  It is a joy to read Kathryn Shevelow’s careful examination of this extraordinary man and the other courageous men and women who worked together to radically change society with their ideas about social justice.  You are left pondering the implications of their words and deeds on those around them, indeed on us all, even today.”

Ingrid Newkirk, President, PETA


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