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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

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  468 ratings  ·  102 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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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
Vada Andrews
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
this is the most thorough book I have EVER read. who knew there was that much to know about chickens. this man is doing god’s work
Brendan Coster
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Dan Mccarthy
Lawler traces the story of the chicken from it’s southeast asian jungle roots through the modern genetically modified industrial-scale processed meat on the supermarket shelf.

I was drawn to this book because of our experience with chickens. We have an egg flock of 19 hens and 2 roosters, as well as raise and process enough meat birds through the summer to supply our own meat year round. I really enjoy having backyard chickens and the connection with nature growing your own food provides.

I was s
Jun 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Each chapter deals with a different area of chicken history or biology. The one on how American slaves kept the bird as one of the few ways they had to earn money is particularly fascinating.

One of the best 'histories of one thing' I have read.
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
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.
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.
Sean Goh
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
The premise is interesting, though the writing is largely dry, with an excessive number of pages dedicated to the various (same same but different) ways different cultures venerated the chicken, and other dry descriptions of scientific sleuthing to track the chicken's path around the world.
The middle has a short history of how chickens became an industry, with the American Chicken of Tomorrow contest in the late 1940s, and the last quarter is a look into the modern status of the chicken, both i
David Rudin
Jan 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Well written and extravagantly researched, I enjoyed parts of this book while other sections were tedious.
While Lawler creates a professionally researched and written work, he spends too much time belaboring certain areas while skipping over other important subjects. For example, I greatly enjoyed the section focusing on early 20th Century naturalist William Beebe’s description of the ancestor of the chicken, The Red Jungle Fowl, see by Beebe in 1911. Pieces on cockfighting, still popular in man
Infamous Sphere
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
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
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a great, if pretty rapid, look at the relationship between mankind and the chicken. Lawler covers a great deal from initial domestication of wild species for to the chicken's role in human society over thousands of years, from religion to politics and disease prevention. It's well researched and written in an easily comprehensible style, so rattles along at quite a pace. It is a pretty rapid survey, with some parts feeling a little choppy, and some sections could have done with some mor ...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
George Scott
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is not your typical adventure novel. In fact, it's not a novel, but there is adventure. It is a fun and complete look at the development of the CHICKEN as a very important animal for our civilization, and in many others.

In many countries it's only important as a sporting animal, and maybe that's how it all started. Once it was domesticated, we humans formed it for our own needs, and developed it for prolific egg-laying and for meat.

You'll travel to Indonesia, and across the Pacific in a Pol
Feb 13, 2021 rated it liked it
So some parts were amazing and quite interesting while other parts were bad. The history is quite interesting. Although I had no interest in the cock fighting chapter. My own personal choice I suppose. I have chickens and I know lots of people with chickens. I felt some of what was written on chickens and how they are raised is off. I also feel that the author shouldn't say that chicks are thrown through wood chippers without an awful lot of evidence to back that up bc it has been proven it does ...more
Nancy Rosenberg
Dec 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book!

I loved this book. It is well-written and very engaging. I didn’t start it with a consuming interest in chickens, but ended with one! I loved looking at pictures of different chicken varieties on the web while reading about them in his book.I found his detailing of the chicken’s role throughout so many societies in the world fascinating and his description of the current state of chickens in the world both interesting and disturbing. A great read - I highly recommend it.
Feb 06, 2021 rated it did not like it
Not a lot about chickens themselves and mostly about cultures around chickens, such as the history of cock fighting and how important eating and raising chickens was to ancient man. Not about the animal really. I thought this would be more of how chickens are raised and have been raised in the past, can survive in an insanely wide variety of environments, and have biologically changed nearly as much as dogs due to breeding.
I got halfway through and put it down - not at all zoological. Read for
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant book and an interesting read about the bird that really we should all think a lot more about. Covering everything from domestication, the role of chicken in religion and trade, over chicken breeding and industrial chicken production to conservation efforts this is a fantastic tour de force through more than 5000 years of history. Well worth a read - you won't look at chicken the same way ever again. ...more
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.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Combine history & food science, and I'm there. For someone who enjoyed the secret lives of lobsters and is looking forward to reading a history of salt, this definitely fit my niche. Cool to read about origins and migration patterns. A tad hyperbolic in description and a bit schizophrenic in scene changes- I still enjoyed it. ...more
Yuuki Nakashima
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, food
I expected that this book is about chicken meat. Of course, it was one of the subjects, but it also talked about cock fight, chicken for religious rituals, etc. so I could learn way more than I expected.
The author says chickens are not creatures for many people. They tend to see the birds as meat. It’s true because I was one of them before reading it.
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!
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
My review of this book is neutral. It was not particularly engaging or particularly bad, I think it was just 200 more pages that I need about the topic - I mean if Mary Roach had written on this topic, 300 pages would be great, but unfortunately I just stopped caring.
Mar 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a surprising and fascinating book. While I think it could/should have been edited down to 2/3 the size (especially the early chapters--too deep in minutiae), there are wonderful nuggets here for everyone (sorry).
Libby Beyreis
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
A fun book, but the author was on firmer ground when talked about science or current events than he was when he talked about history. Several of his assertions were... questionable. That said, I did enjoy the book, even if I would recommend taking it with a grain of salt.
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. Who realized the scope of influence of the simple chicken? It tells us more about how trade developed between groups and the movement of civilization around the planet. Oh yeah, and it's a relatively inexpensive way to feed a lot of people.

Highly recommend.
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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

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