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Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization
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Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  328 ratings  ·  76 reviews
From ancient empires to modern economics, veteran journalist Andrew Lawler delivers a sweeping history of the animal that has been most crucial to the spread of civilization across the globe—the chicken.

Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrates' last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, Afri
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Atria Books
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3.66  · 
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 ·  328 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Heather&Lia Breslin
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
For those of us who have given in fully to the affliction known as "Crazy Chicken Lady" disease, this is a wonderful book. Lawler has covered the history, science and current state of chicken rearing in a very comprehensive novel. I read and enjoyed his article and was happy to have even more info. The bibliography is longer than the actual book, something else I appreciate, because if it isn't documented I get suspicious that it may be fictional. I mostly read on a Kindle but if I were to buy a ...more
Mark Hartzer
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have a new found respect for this humble bird. I didn't realize that they have been around people as long as they have. What is new, is that people (at least here in the US) no longer think of them as animals, but rather just another form of food. The good news is that humane treatment of our farm animals is becoming more common. The bad news is that 'industrial chickens' as the French term them, are going international. In other words, millions more birds are destined to be raised in factory ...more
2.5*s Unfortunately it was not for me.
This took me forever and a day. I was really excited about this one and unfortunately it didn't quite pull itself off enough to work (or to even keep me awake most days).
The whole first third of the book seemed like a very dull, long winded explanation for 'we just can't track where and when it came from exactly'. There were tidbits and sections I enjoyed mostly in the second third, such at look as it's religious impact and how the eggs are used to study
Brendan Coster
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Recommended to Brendan Coster by: NYPL
This had top notch writing, was extremely informative, and did everything I would expect or want from a commodity history. I've already recommended this and will continue to do so. Up till now, "Salt", by Kurlansky, was my favorite commodity history, but this gives it a run for it money.

Lawler runs the gambit of history, biology, pathology, chemistry, religion, social in regards to mainstream, taboo, and shades between, and just straight up history. Some of the figures and information he investi
TR Peterson
Consider the chicken. No really. Lawler's fascinating book takes us through the history of the world through the feathery lens of one of humanities most important fellow creatures. From cock fights to breakfast tables to traditions of Southern cooking and a symbol of human virility, this bird has been with us through it all. The chicken has at once mystical and practical uses across the modern world and yet for all it has given us, Lawler reminds us of the sad fate of too many of the birds, bred ...more
An interesting and well written book that looks at the origins of chicken and their journey around the world. I would have liked more details and some pictures/ photographs would have been nice.
Infamous Sphere
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those with a similar fondness for chickens
A lot of splendid information in here about the history and cultural context of that delicious and loveable bird, the chicken. At times I felt the writing style was a bit lumpy and I felt my interest waning, but each chapter discusses a different aspect of chickens, and so if you aren't interested in the history of chicken sacrifice or various bits of chicken-related legislation or chickens in the bible, you might be interested in the rise of poultry keeping by poor women and enslaved people in ...more
Anders Rasmussen
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a book about chicken. One would think that it is hard to write a book entirely about chicken. And one would think it is impossible to write such a book that is also interesting. Wrong, and wrong again. This book takes you on an unexpected, occasionally thrilling journey.

The reader will learn about:
- The number of chicken in the world: More than twice as many chickens as humans
- The ancestry of chicken: They are related to dinosaurs and have been a part of our diet since at least 1500bc
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: wplc-holdings
Some interesting research touching only slightly on today's industrial chicken business, sometimes long winded and repeated information in more than one chapter. Usually I can find themes in narratives based on research, but it was difficult in the middle of the book. On the other hand there were some parts that were riveting, perhaps different editing would have helped. Worth the read, though, and helps explain the phenomenon of tasty chicken being found elsewhere than the US
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
While I liked the concept of this book, the storytelling seemed erratic. There were chapters that were extremely interesting and they flew by. But then there were quite a few chapters that were very dry and dull. Some chapters were quite long, which had me wondering where the chapter was actually going to end.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
I was saving this review to get a quote, but... it's an audiobook, and it's been a month, so I don't think I'm ever going to get it.

Anyway! A fun blog-style book, I remember it dragging along the way with all the evolution and breed talk, and some very depressing bits toward the end about industrial farming, but... overall fun.
Andy Morgan
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very deep dive into chickens, from SE Asian jungle fowl to industrial farming. Not always riveting, and the book stops short of any heavy philosophical lifting. But overall I enjoyed learning about this underappreciated bird!
Jan 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
The introduction was interesting. Occasionally other parts were interesting. However, the flow was very jumpy and contained way too much information to keep my interest. I scanned most of it.

The book was recommended by Bitsy and my mom, so I felt obligated to get through it.
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it

what I learned with shock in this book is male chickens have no penis.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting account of everything to do with chickens. Lots of information
Gail Holman
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Anything you ever wanted to know about chickens. Glad I read it because I love my little flock and all their behaviors.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Lots of great information, but it was a bit to wade through.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Lawler's no Michael Pollan, but there was still some interesting information in this fairly detailed history of the chicken.
Mar 04, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: adult-books
Rambling at times, but still entertaining.
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesante libro sobre los pollos y gallinas, su dispersión por el planeta y su presencia en diferentes épocas de la historia. También se habla en la parte final brevemente de la industria avícola.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
organisation a bit random but interesting and entertaining
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it
This book has an excellent introduction that makes a great case for why we should think more about the importance of the chicken as a food and cultural source that's often ignored. But then it unfortunately got bogged down in writing that felt just kind of lifeless and really did not work for me.

Then I got to the chapter on rooster penises.

Or rather the lack thereof. It turns out cocks actually don't have, you know, a pecker. Apparently chickens actually do grow a penis but early in their embryo
Aug 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Chicken is a staple of the American palate. We eat 4x as much as the rest of the world; however, the chicken we eat, 80% of it, comes from just 2 strains of a bird that includes hundreds of strains and has been part of human existence for more than 2,000 years. We have 1 strain that yields white eggs. 1 strain that yields brown eggs. We have 1 strain that is genetically combined to produce such large breasts that the birds can hardly walk, but can be fed very little and "processed" before they m ...more
Victoria Haf
Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Esta es la generación que se la puede pasar comiendo pollo y huevos toda su vida sin haber conocido un pollo vivo" algo así dice en alguna parte el libro y yo conocí a los pollitos hace algunos días, amarillos y esponjosos que piolaban sin parar.
Si tratas de tomar entre tus brazos al ancestro del pollo doméstico, muere de los nervios, este pollo salvaje que se está extinguiendo por cruzarse con los pollos domésticos que abundan, es tan diferente y sin embargo la misma especie.

y aún así, la hist
I read this on a recommendation from my husband, and I'm glad I found the time to squeeze it in between other reads. Fascinating! I'm always on the lookout for a good microhistory or commodity history, and this certainly fit the bill. It's eye-opening to learn that something as ubiquitous as chicken - in our kitchens, our culture, our religions, our medicines, even our language - has its own incredible back story. We take it for granted, but chicken has played a significant role in many cultures ...more
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
I saw this book reviewed in "Science" and it sounded interesting. It did not disappoint. The author takes you on a world tour as he traces the origin of the domestic chicken and its role in human culture and development. I learned things about the history of the chicken that I never dreamed giving me a new appreciation for the bird. The author does show his bias as he discussed animal rights, environmental issues, and global warming. However, he does so in a relatively low-key manner generally. ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Okay, so this book might not be for everyone, but it is so interesting and so well-written that its appeal does truly extend beyond the interest of crazy chicken people (like me). Chickens have played a surprisingly significant role in history, culture and nature through the millennia and Lawler has carefully and even entertainingly documented all of it. If you need more convincing, I've posted some tidbits from it: ...more
Karl Geiger
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Read this book in two sittings. A fun historical journey of where, when, and why chickens are the most important food animal on the planet. Science part is a tad light, but it's really a historical mystery: how did a semi-flightless jungle fowl from SE Asia come to be on every continent except Antarctica and have numbers that exceed 25,000,000,000?

The book can be improved with some plates or links to view the animals portrayed in text, but the modern reader has Wikipedia:
Thomas Isern
Mar 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: agriculture
Perhaps I should have known better than to have expectations of a book that calls itself an "epic saga" in the subtitle. There is quite a bit to be learned from this popular history of chickens, but the overall effect is unimpressive. About the first half of the book is mainly devoted to use of chickens for ritual purposes and cockfighting. This ought to be pretty interesting, but the narrative is episodic. The most interesting section, for me, was in the middle, treating the nineteenth-century ...more
While I really liked this book I was almost undone by minutiae. As a backyard chicken owner (4 3-year old hens, and 2 1-month olds) I'm always interested in the history of the chicken. Unfortunately it seems as though there are very few pure bread wild birds left!!! Author has a friendly breezy way of writing.

This books could really have used maps and pictures, thus the lower rating!!!!

If you are interested in chickens, as the companion of people (and the most abused animal in the world. Did y
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Andrew Lawler is a contributing writer with Science and contributing editor for Archaeology with more than thirty years full-time experience as a journalist and author. His stories have also appeared in Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discover, Audubon, American Archaeology, Columbia Journalism Review, Slate, Orion, The Sun, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as several foreign ...more
“The modern chicken is both a technological triumph and a poster child for all that is sad and nightmarish about our industrial agriculture. The most engineered creature in history is also the world’s most commonly mistreated animal.” 1 likes
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