Please Read This Book—It Knocked My Socks Off (It Will Surprise You, Too!)

How to Love Animals - blog post

Please Read This Book – It Knocked My Socks Off (It Will Surprise You, Too!)

As you will hear if you listen to this week’s Dog Talk® I devoted the whole hour to one book: How to Love Animals In a Human-Shaped World. I said right up front to the author, Henry Mance, with all respect, that I worried the title might impede widespread desire to dive into the rich world between the covers. I was wary myself when I received the book, because the title had me fearful that this was going to be another of “those books” preaching about inhumane treatment of animals, peoples’ disrespect of other species and the importance of “mindful consumerism” and diet choices to save the planet.  But you need not worry! Put your mind at rest! This book is not a manifesto insisting you love animals — it is a mind-expanding voyage that catches you off guard time and again, showing how the world works in areas we’ve never questioned.

Please Forgive the Book Its Title

At the beginning of the radio interview I do clearly say I went head-over-heels for the writing, the ideas, the facts, the unrelenting charm and brilliance of Henry Mance as he weaves a tale. However, what’s up with that title?! While I know my opinion is just one of millions, and there’s no way to change the book’s title at this point anyway, I just need to say to you: “Ignore it! Buy it anyway! Read the book!

This book is not a screed about how awful people are to animals and the environment (even though it does show us those very facts many times over in unexpected ways). It is a brilliant, funny and deeply moving account of what happens when we don’t stop to consider how every choice we make in our lives does matter, does make a difference for better or worse, to creatures of all kinds and to the planet itself. Trying to figure out the difference between “good” and “evil” is not a simple task, and that’s also part of the book’s appeal.

Embrace the “Gray Areas”

We Americans like our facts and opinions clear-cut, we like to think in Black and White, Good and Bad. A British author brings an entirely different sensibility to leading us to question the effects on non-human animals and the environment as a result of our choices every day.

What If Goose Down is as Cruel as Mink Farming?

Do you feel smugly superior because you would never wear fur? Think you are a better person than unenlightened women in sable coats because you wear goose down for warmth — Patagonia, or on the bargain end Uniqlo, on the upper end Moncler? Wait ’til you learn how goose down is procured. This book is written by a brilliantly informed Englishman, so it is subtle, there is no drama, no hitting you over the head. It’s all understatement and juxtaposition of ideas that probably never crossed your mind. But when the light bulb goes off, it’s dazzling!

This book makes you feel smarter… and dumber 

This book is so chock full of ideas, and new ways of looking at the world, that it makes your head hurt — in a  good way, a thrilling way. It is as though your conscience and brain are woken up in tandem. If you’re like me, the book makes you feel both more ignorant, and more enlightened than you were before you read it. Philosophically, we discover there are no easy answers — and in practicality, many obstacles to finding and executing a “better way” forward.

It’s Okay Not to Be Vegan (like me)

Yes, the author is vegan and has a lot of compelling ideas and facts and stories to tell, but he’s not a missionary. He’s not trying to convert anyone: he’s just recounting personal experiences, offering important facts and figures, and letting you draw your own conclusions. For someone like me, who is unabashedly an omnivore, despite knowing all the arguments about vegetarianism, I came away from this book more shaken about drinking milk than eating beef. Things are not what they seem in the world we’ve constructed. I must confess to feeling snarky delight in learning that my holier-than-thou judgmental friends — who are righteous pescatarians, or will only eat cage-free chicken or eggs, or wild fish — have no idea of the complex suffering to creatures and the environment of their presumably morally superior choices. The facts on display make it clear that nobody has completely clean hands or is blameless. This book makes you think, and think again — laugh and then sober up — consider and reconsider things you thought you knew or believed.

Who is Henry Mance? 

The author is Henry Mance, the Chief Features writer for the Financial Times (UK) and interviewer for “FT Weekend.” He also has a weekly satirical column on politics and culture and was previously a political and media correspondent for the FT. With his lofty and prestigious position at a lofty, prestigious newspaper, Mance brings dry British wit to every fact, and understatement to the ideas he floats.

Just Read the Book, Okay?

This book might not make you a better person. But then again, it might.

—Tracie Hotchner


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