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Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  1,322 ratings  ·  273 reviews
The hugely illuminating story of how a popular breed of dog became the most demonized and supposedly the most dangerous of dogs—and what role humans have played in the transformation.  

When Bronwen Dickey brought her new dog home, she saw no traces of the infamous viciousness in her affectionate, timid pit bull. Which made her wonder: How had the breed—beloved by Teddy Roo
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Knopf
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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Rebecca McNutt
*UPDATE: Since posting this review two years ago (yes, two years ago), I've been getting numerous comments on it accusing me of both hating/being abusive towards animals, and also having posted a fake review based on a dislike of pit bulls. I do not wish to filter comments on any of my reviews but that is what I have been having to do for this one review because it is getting annoying. I suggest you all find something more meaningful to do with your abundance of free time henceforth. Yes, I do n ...more
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
"As long as there are different classes of people, there will be different classes of dogs."
Pit bulls have to be the most demonized dog breed of all time.

Oh, wait:
"Pit bull" is not actually a breed of dog. It's a type of dog which includes a bevy of different breeds-- American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), Staffordshire Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, American Bully... well, you get the point.

I've been volunteering in animal shelters since high school. In most shelters in
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
May 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: animals
This book, while it might have a few good points and glimmers of insight, is very, very biased in favor of pit bulls.

No matter what people say, no mater what cutesy names they might come up with (pitties, pibbles, velvet hippos, for fuck's sake!) nothing will change the fact that pitbulls were bred for gameness/fighting, and that has given pits the features they're known for (high strength, prey drive, a head shape that makes their bite all the more devastating) and these exact features make the
Jane Trucksis
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My first dog was a pit bull; actually, it was my ex-husband's dog. The first time I came over to his apartment, there was Pooch at the door, looking up at me and wagging her tail. She reminded me of the RCA Victor dog. When I asked Rob what kind of dog she was, he said the vet told him she was a pit bull. He'd gotten her from a cop he knew who "found her." Whatever her background, Pooch turned out to be a wonderful pet: affectionate, smart, loyal, devoted and playful.

When the anti-pit bull hy
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I always start reading books about animals and especially animals in relationship to humans (pets being a specific subcategory to that) with a bit of apprehension. Most of the time, it's because anthropocentric nonsense leads a book that is self-marketed as rational and informative straight into a swamp of sentimentalism, which is not to be confused with love; one can love a pet without treating them like they're your thing and your property. These books want to defend a specific species and end ...more
Kimberly  Carten Casey
Very well researched and well written

I can't believe the one star reviews considering that they haven't read the book and spew the same falsehoods that the author proves with facts. Most people are shocked that my two loveable dogs are those vicious pit bulls, they say that as they pet them. I grew up around the breed, never been bit and never had a dog to bite anyone. If you been around the breed at all that our family pets, it's a joke because they our the biggest babies. They aren't good watc
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star
“What you have to understand,” Jane said, “is that we are now at the point which the very discussion of the problem advances the problem. The term ‘pit bull’ now has so much coin that everyone gets something out of it. Musicians, rappers, politicians, reporters, whoever. Everybody gains something from that term. Except the dogs. They just end up dead.”

I have to commend this book for something: it challenged me. Like, a lot. It’s not at all what I was expecting.

As an avid reader of animal based
[Name Redacted]
This has some legitimately interesting historical and scientific information...but you have to wade through a LOT of unverifiable sob-stories, questionable declarations and ill-informed political screeds
just to reach those few precious nuggets of truth. I recommend giving this a pass, especially given the author's bold (and inaccurate) assertion at the beginning that she is being objective and not letting ideology or personal preferences cloud her judgment. This is more a collection of her pers
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals, non-fiction
Please ignore the title of this book. Read only the subtitle, for that is the true subject of Dickey’s seven- year investigation into the history, hype, and true meaning of what it means to have, hate, or even think about pit bulls. When I first heard about Pit Bull from KC Dog Blogger, Brent Toellner, I was interested, but a little intimidated. With 34 pages of notes and bibliography (in very small print) I expected a densely-written tome dragged down by the weight of facts, quotes and referenc ...more
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
This book is very pro-'pit bull', so if you come in with a set in stone bias against them, this probably isn't the book for you. I like bully breeds, although I tend to lean more towards the English bulldog, bull terrier, and bullmastiff moreso than 'pit bulls', although I've never shared a home with any such dog. I felt the author raised very valid points in her argument as to why pit bulls are getting a bad rap in today's society. Particularly of interest to me was her chapter on genetics and ...more
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction, although I'm only halfway through the second chapter, I am hooked. Ms. Dickey's writing, research and style reminds me of two of my favorite non-fiction authors--Nathaniel Philbrick and Erik Larson, as well as the late David Halberstam.

I lived with 3 pit bulls in 1980. They were lovable goofs. I adopted a pit mix puppy from a foster group almost 10 years ago, followed by another 1 yr old pit mix, three years later. He was a "wild man." Both are
Susan Paxton
May 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dogs
This is a masterful, well researched and written, and deeply felt book. How did it all go so wrong over pit bulls? Bronwen Dickey looks not only at this one type of dog - not even really a breed, often, but just dogs that "look like" pit bulls - but into the history of breed discrimination and hysteria, which goes back, sadly, centuries. As to why pits and why now, a very obvious and brutally revealing answer from a pit hater is this: "It would be nice to ban poor people, but we can't do that, s ...more
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just absolutely loved this book, and am recommending it to every reader I know. It's a compulsively readable history of the pit bull - from the creation of the breed to impressions of pit bulls and pit bull mixes through history and today. From their use in dogfighting (in the late 1800s and today), to their role as beloved family pet and most patriotic of dogs, to the role of the 24 hour news cycle on their persistent and ongoing vilification, this book is incredibly informative and illuminat ...more
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Like most non-fiction books I pick up, this choice started with listening to Terri Gross interviewing Bronwen Dickey on Fresh Air last year. I remember both being fascinated by the discussion about pit bulls, which at the turn of the century were considered classic family dogs, and by the stories Dickey told about growing up in a household that involved both dogs and a famous parent with addiction issues. This fall, I worked with a former student several times in the writing center as she did re ...more
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I own a block-headed pup, so my reasons for reading this were clearly biased. The book, however, delivered much more than I expected. To be honest, I got this book expecting the normal apologetic defense of 'pit bulls' that I've been hearing for ages. Instead, I got an historical perspective, a ton of research (both secondary and fieldwork). There are so many takeaways from this book. I think first and foremost is that the media has made block-headed dogs a scapegoat-because, you kno ...more
Lacy Broemel
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a treasure of a book! I had a pit bull dog that was my best friend- he would sleep with me every night, follow me around the house, and had this wise & adoring spirit. I was always confounded at the hate and fear people projected onto him and the "breed" in general. It felt unjust. Dickey produced a well-researched and expertly written book that I felt was practically tailored for me. I enjoyed how personal the book felt to her as well. Her humor and guidance throughout the book made me imm ...more
May 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is filled with fiction. Never "America's Dog," never an AKC winner, never a nanny dog. Pit bulls are fighting breeds. What is true that some may never be aggressive or dangerous, but it is a crap shoot. If you are unlucky enough to have one that's aggressive, it can easily rip the skull off an adult. 14 children were killed by pit bulls last year alone. Last week in San Diego, an infant was killed by a newly adopted pit bull.

This book is fiction. If you are interested in truth, please
May 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
Horrible collection of dangerous and delusional myths masquerading as research.
Tracy Challis
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
10 stars would not be enough for this book.

I cannot overstate how well-written, how meticulously researched, how coherently and logically constructed this book was.

I love dogs. I have and adore one (maybe two) that the world would identify as a pit. I have seen and heard, first hand, some of the incorrect stereotypes and misinformation about this type of dog. I have even believed some of the misinformation myself. This book opened my eyes to so much.

Dogs considered to be pit bulls (and this b
Alicia Maclean
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thought by now I knew pretty much all there was to know about their plight/perception in modern society, but was I ever wrong (and I was wrong in some "facts" I believed). The amount of research and data in this book (which is nothing like the "data" presented by the media, which the author discusses), is staggering. If you're a pibble lover or a hater, this book is for you. Even if you have no "dog in the fight" (and you may find yourself actually having commonality with dog fighters), but yo ...more
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This meticulously researched, compulsively readable, and occasionally devastating book should be required reading for anyone interested in pit bulls, dogs, American history, race, media studies, and rhetoric. An outstanding accomplishment.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
First, a bit about me: I have had 2 dogs with "pit bull" traits (smooth coat, batwing ears, wide jaw, broad chest, white spot on chest, compact muscular body, etc.), one which I adopted unawares from a rescue, and one which had been deemed "unadoptable" and a "liability" by the local Humane Society. They both came to me at 6-9 months of age with loving, enthusiastic, friendly personalities. I have also supported BAD RAP and the Unexpected Pit Bull.

I'm also a historian, so I'm well aware of how
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
While Bronwen Dickey's book Pit Bull centers around a certain kind of dog (no matter how hard it is to define with certainty!), much of the detail centers around the humans who have dictated much of the narrative. Dickey goes into much historical detail in the early pages of the book, immersing the reader in the history of dog fighting in mid-19th century New York City, introducing us to characters like Kit Burns, an entrepreneur who had no qualms about making money off of human or canine violen ...more
Amy Martinez
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this book because I'm an APBT mommy and wanted to better understand the fear associated with this animal that's best job of keeping strangers out of the house is sleeping in front of the door. I just hope he stays asleep or all my valuables will be history--thank Heaven for my Yorkies! I needed to understand why people felt the need to apologize for my dog like he did something wrong. People don't say "It's all how you raise them" about my Yorkies. This book had me screaming and shouti ...more
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I started getting interested in Pit Bulls when I thought about getting one and much more once I got a dog that had some Pit Bull likeness. After reading this book, I will not call my dog a Pit Bull. He's just a mutt, and that is perfectly fine with me.

Dickey goes into the historical relationship between human and dog to illustrate just how tumultuous that relationship has been. She explains the genetics, classifications, breeds and why the term Pit Bull is so loosely defined. She interviews acti
Sassafras Lowrey
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"What pitbulls have taught us is that justice for animals cannot happen at the expense of justice for humans....if we fail to do that, the cycle is destined to repeat itself" pg 266

Just one of the many quotes that stood out to me as I read this significantly important book. Pit Bull is not only a thoughtful and balanced piece of journalism (not easy to pull off in the dog world) but culturally relevant on every level, and in particular the ways in which it framed the development of the "pit bull
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is, quite frankly, the best book on the topic. And the most thorough and intelligent discussion of what it means to be a pit bull. Dickey has done an astonishing amount of research, synthesized it beautifully, and gives us not only a scientific and historical context for this "breed" and others (and, indeed, the very concept of a breed), but also a very moving story. 'Pit Bull' is an expert blend of personal detail, deep, thoughtful journalism, and insightful cultural critique that will edu ...more
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pets, nonfiction, history
Really well written and researched. I did not expect a book about a dog breed to be this informative, interesting, or political, but that just shows how little I actually knew about a breed I've felt an affection and sympathy for. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in dogs obviously, but also to people interested in enriching their understanding of media frenzy and its relation to racism and social control, or urban poverty and that relation to pet care, as I also learned quite a b ...more
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A book for anyone interested in animal and human welfare in America. Bronwen Dickey does an excellent job surveying the history of the pit bull, particularly regarding the hysteria and fear around the breed, which is entirely unreasonable and based in a lot of flat-out racism. She writes with clarity and reason and avoids the overemotional trap of such a heart-rending subject. It's an eye-opening and important book. As one of her sources says: As long as we have different classes of dogs in Amer ...more
Charlie Easterson
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, informative, heartbreaking, hilarious and completely well-researched. A really thorough history of the Pit Bull throughout western culture and the reasons and implications of both the love for and hatred of the idea of "Pit Bulls".

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves dogs, history, non-fiction or cultural studies.

This review based on an ARC provided to me through my work.
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