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The Lives of Animals

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  1,588 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
The idea of human cruelty to animals so consumes novelist Elizabeth Costello in her later years that she can no longer look another person in the eye: humans, especially meat-eating ones, seem to her to be conspirators in a crime of stupefying magnitude taking place on farms and in slaughterhouses, factories, and laboratories across the world.

Costello's son, a physics prof
Paperback, 136 pages
Published May 6th 2001 by Princeton University Press (first published 1977)
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Sep 13, 2015 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sudafrica
In La vita degli animali Coetzee sguazza nella metaletteratura come un ippopotamo nel fiume fangoso, e io con lui, sguazzo e godo da fan della narrativa sulla narrativa quale sono.
Very post-modern: ma credo che sentirsi definire così spingerebbe Coetzee a storcere naso e bocca rischiando un attacco allergico. Gioco di specchi potrebbe stargli meglio: e probabilmente romanzo accademico anche di più.
Ma suppongo che Coetzee, come la maggior parte degli artisti, preferirebbe non essere
Lisa Vegan
I read this for my book club; I’m the one who suggested this book. I’d wanted to read it for many years. I had thought that it was a novel whose main character is an animal rights advocate. It’s not and for me that was a disappointment.

It’s mostly essays by other authors than the main author, referring back to Coetzee”s pieces: Amy Gutmann, Marjorie Garber, Peter Singer, Wendy Doniger, and Barbara Smuts. Except for Singer’s, which is a fiction piece, they’re basically non-fiction pieces.

The auth
Oct 20, 2011 Sridhar rated it it was amazing
A brilliant work by a Nobel laureate in literature and a wonderful book to start the year with. A superb form of academic novel (a novel genre, I could say, if the pun may be forgiven), this is top-notch writing on a theme of profound and enduring significance for anyone concerned with human values and connections with other animals.

J. M. Coetzee, invited to Princeton to deliver the prestigious Tanner Lectures on Human Values, presents the lectures as a fictional story with debate and dialogue c
Jun 07, 2013 Rafa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adoro la facilidad con la que crea un buen texto; incluso con su personaje menos atractivo.
Jun 14, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it
I stopped eating meat, for environmental reasons, during my first year of college. Then a few years passed, and I entered that slippery state of "flexitarianism," which really means, "I eat meat when I want to," i.e. too often. I picked up The Lives of Animals as an intervention. The book has pleasantly surprised me, in a couple ways.

First, it doesn't have a clear political agenda. It helps that J.M. Coetzee can hide behind his fictional characters (or step behind, if "hide" sounds too evasive)
Jul 26, 2016 Blake rated it it was amazing
In the late 90s, the novelist J. M. Coetzee was invited to Princeton to give the Tanner Lectures. He chose to speak on the topic that is sometimes referred to in philosophy as “the moral status of animals” and the result is The Lives of Animals. Given the simple and elegant form of a meta-fictional novella, the two parts, The Philosophers and the Animals and The Poets and the Animals, combine to an extended narrative about fictional novelist Elizabeth Costello, who has been invited to the (also) ...more
Ama Bemma
Mar 16, 2016 Ama Bemma rated it really liked it
I am a vegan, so the philosophical and academic conversations (if you can call them that) within this novella were very worthwhile to read. I was a tad bit disappointed, at first, because I truly expected this to be a novel (with a moving plot, characters...not just speech after article after essay after speech).However, once you get past the first 1/4 of the book, it picks up quickly and the plot becomes visible again. The characters are put back into motion and the contrived speech at the ...more
Oct 04, 2014 Rachel rated it it was ok
I'm glad I was able to read it and especially glad I didn't have to pay $20 to buy it. I thought Coetzee's "academic novella" had poorly written characters and a badly told story, if it was supposed to be story.

However, I was delighted and surprised to see Peter Singer's work of "fiction." Seems like he had a ball writing that! What a talented writer and astute ethicist (Singer). I bet Singer would have written a much better academic novella than Coetzee. And ... isn't Coetzee a fiction writer,
Nov 16, 2009 Izlinda rated it liked it
I read this book for my writing course, Our Animal Selves. Coetzee writes about a famous author, Elizabeth Costello, who is invited to give a talk at a university. Coincidentally, her son works there. While there, Costello doesn't given an expected speech about literary works, but about human-animal relations. The next day she gave a seminar about poets and animals and finished her visit with a debate with a philosophy professor.

It was kind of hard to pick apart the arguments Costello used since
Jun 18, 2012 Sasha rated it really liked it
This novella is actually the two-part lecture that Coetzee gave at Princeton in 1997. Here Coetzee presents the topic of human cruelty toward animals through fiction, with fiction writer Elizabeth Costello invited to give a distinguished lecture at a university, and this is her topic of choice. The controversy of her lecture is argued, discussed, and rebutted by academic characters including Costello's son and his wife. The philosophical, poetical, and literal approaches to Costello's chosen ...more

De hoofdpersoon in ‘Dierenleven’ is de Australische romanschrijfster Elizabeth Costello, die op de universiteit van Appleton een lezing en een gastcollege komt geven over een door haar gekozen thema. Ze kiest voor de wijze waarop wij de rationele mens eenzijdig verheerlijken en het niet-rationele dier verachten. Dit leidt er haars inziens toe dat we het dier slecht behandelen. Scherp is haar vergelijking tussen de dood van joden in de concentratiekampen en de uitbuiting van dieren in
Dec 03, 2011 Alison rated it it was amazing
This story is ingeniously written. Coetzee, invited to give two talks as part of a university lecture series, instead delivers a fictional story in two parts about a novelist who is invited to give a series of university talks. His lecturer, Elizabeth Costello, chooses to engage with the philosophies underlying vegetarianism and humane treatment of animals, rather than speak about her own work. Meanwhile, his protagonist (her son and a junior professor at the university), must navigate the ...more
Jan 08, 2010 Lucas rated it it was amazing
this short work cleverly uses the platform of a fictive academic lecture -- which coetzee later presented, metatextually, at princeton -- to condense many familiar and unfamiliar arguments about eating and treating animals. is Costello, the impassioned novelist and lecturer in the book, a mouthpiece for Coetzee? probably not. that ambiguity is likely what allows coetzee to lay out such a morally charged and ultimately irresolvable exchange.

the impasse in which humans find themselves when it com
Troy Martin
Jan 25, 2015 Troy Martin rated it it was ok
I am VERY much an animal lover; however I think it is impertinent to use the Holocaust as an analogy for the production of food (or for any analogy at that). Leave the dead to rest in peace. Using it as an analogy trivializes the Holocaust, and for lack of a better word, "cheapens" it. I think it is quite disrespectful to the millions of Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals, Gypsies, and many others who lost their lives in such a horrific manner. Even if the "how" is similar (how they treat animals when ...more
Dec 15, 2008 Benjaminxjackson rated it it was ok

This is another Odyssey project reading.

The book as a whole is kind of interesting because of the essays that accompany the main story, which is a pair of lectures written as a fiction story.

That said, the main story of the novelist giving lectures about how humans should do something in regards to animals differently than they do now falls flat for me. Coetzee's apparent alter ego of Costello doesn't seem to know what she wants people to do. She is a vegetarian, but doesn't suggest that for ot
Teniesha Kessler
Feb 11, 2013 Teniesha Kessler rated it liked it
The academic novel (in this case, novella) is an interesting, lesser-known, and supposedly underrated sub-genre, and in "The Lives of Animals, this setup explores animal cruelty using philosophy and literary analysis--an interesting vessel, though not the most engaging either, as I found the main character flat and mostly emotionless. A strong argument either way, and the four supplemental essays afterward were helpful and enjoyable, especially those by Peter Singer and Barbara Smuts. A good ...more
Nov 06, 2010 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This was the book that changed by attitude to eating meat. I could no longer evade the central question of the unnecessary cruelty invloved and our capacity to collude to denying that fact by splitting it off from our meat munching. A powerful arguemnet skillfully fictionalised. Trully a book that changes my life.
Dec 04, 2009 Nora rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
Sure, there's a lot of cerebral stuff to talk about with this book. But, that doesn't make it a good read. My poor, poor Freshman Writing students...
Wes Young
Jan 27, 2009 Wes Young rated it it was amazing
Had to read this for my Environmental Issues philosophy class in college. Top notch read!
Becky Boyle
Jan 31, 2010 Becky Boyle rated it really liked it
yep. vegetarian for sure now.
Stefany GG
Oct 19, 2014 Stefany GG rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: animal-rights
Una de las lecturas base para activistas en pro de los animales no humanos.
Suellen Rubira
Dec 10, 2016 Suellen Rubira rated it it was amazing
Alguns livros (talvez todos) possuem um tempo certo para serem lidos e quase intuitivamente esse foi o melhor momento para ler The lives of animals. Coetzee, que não é bobo, organiza esse romance (ou novela, alguns podem preferir assim) em forma de palestras dadas pela escritora Elizabeth Costello, super envolvida na causa animal. Mediando essa situação, temos o filho dela, John, e a nora, Norma. Obviamente a relação entre as duas não é das melhores e isso se mostra claramente através dos ...more
Sep 26, 2016 Benjamin rated it liked it
Splendid meta-fiction, with Kafka and his ape as leading characters.

Didn't know that Kafka required 'a regimen of eccentric food habits at odds with the normal dinner table habit of his family. It was a way for him to use food ritualistically as a form of superior statement, a way of bridging the gap between himself and his family, while at the same time insisting on his uniqueness, his superiority, his sense of rejection.'

Not too surprising if we learn that he saw 'both himself and Red Peter a
Feb 04, 2014 Zein rated it it was amazing
Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello travels to the United States to give a lecture at a college. Animals are the main subject, and Coetzee addresses many of the debates that surround the ways that humans treat animals through the narration of her lecture and the subsequent discussions that take place.

I appreciated the care with which Coetzee crafted his arguments, and the broad range of thinkers he uses to support them: Kafka to Plutarch to modern poets. Perhaps the impressive argument comes early, in
Jan 27, 2015 Paola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Le conferenze di Coetzee sotto forma di racconto alle Tanner Lectures presso la Princeton University:

"... si concentrano su una questione etica importante: il modo in cui gli esseri umani trattano gli animali."

Coetzee crea un romanzo con un suo personaggio, Elisabeth Costello scrittrice, invitata a tenere delle conferenze in una università.

La signora Costello é un'anziana donna, stanca e sfiduciata dell'umano essere e dei suoi comportamenti criminali.

E mentre l'aspettativa degli uditori é sent
Jan 14, 2015 Camila rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Brief and resounding.
Highly recommend. Though a bit intellectual at times, very human and bits and pieces resonated with me very deeply. It left me pondering and wondering about some ideas, and most importantly, towards the end it managed to put into words something that had implicitly and covertly been troubling me for a while:

“- {...} What is it that you can't say?
- It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal
Jun 30, 2016 Moksha rated it did not like it
The Lives of Animals is a story within a story. Rather than lecturing on animal cruelty himself, Coetzee instead writes a story about Costello, who lectures in his place.

My main problem with this book was how frustrating it was to follow all the arguments. Costello is frequently too verbose, or doesn't explain her arguments clearly enough. For instance, she writes:

‘Cogito ergo sum,’ he also famously said. It is a formula I have always been uncomfortable with. It implies that a living being tha
Mar 25, 2015 Bobby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book on several levels. It is unlike any other book I've read (or that anyone is likely to encounter!). At its heart is a "lecture" given at Princeton by the author. But that lecture is actually a work of fiction used as a vehicle to have dialogue about animals and the human relationship with other animals. The main character in this fiction is a writer of fiction herself who is invited to give a lecture at a fictional school! She, Elizabeth Costello, has some pretty ...more
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Universal Compass...: First Selection 10 14 Mar 30, 2014 12:57PM  
  • The Animal That Therefore I Am
  • When Species Meet
  • In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave
  • Making A Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights
  • We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication
  • What Is Posthumanism?
  • Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals
  • Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights
  • The Case for Animal Rights
  • Minding Animals: Awareness, Emotions, and Heart
  • Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
  • The Pornography of Meat
  • The Open: Man and Animal
  • The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life
  • Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation
  • Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight
  • A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans & A Theory of Meaning
  • Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation
John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He is now an Australian citizen and lives in South Australia.
A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.
More about J.M. Coetzee...

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“I want to find a way of speaking to fellow human beings that will be cool rather than heated, philosophical rather than polemical, that will bring enlightenment rather than seeking to divide us into the righteous and the sinners, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats.” 51 likes
“Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, livestock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.” 17 likes
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