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A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  32 ratings  ·  18 reviews
From an award-winning historian, the outlandish story of the man who gave rights to animals.

In Gilded Age America, people and animals lived cheek-by-jowl in environments that were dirty and dangerous to man and beast alike. The industrial city brought suffering, but it also inspired a compassion for animals that fueled a controversial anti-cruelty movement. From the center
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 22nd 2020 by Basic Books
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Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gilded Age Americans lived cheek-by-jowl with free-range animals. Cities and towns teemed with milk cows in dark tenement alleys, pigs rooting through garbage in the streets, geese and chickens harried by the packs of stray dogs that roamed the 19th-century city. For all of American history, animals had been a ubiquitous and seemingly inevitable part of urban life, essential to sustaining a dense human population. As that population became ever-denser, though, city dwellers were forced to consid ...more
Violet Laflamme
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
Before reading this book I had never heard of Henry Bergh and I'm so happy I read this book because it sheds a lot of light on how the state of the animal rights movement today came to be. Some of the things that used to be a big battle seem obvious to us today (issues like dogfighting), but it wasn't always like that.

What I liked:

This book broke its chapters more or less up by specific battles fought by Bergh. The moving of livestock, dogfights, the way public transportation horses were treated
Oct 05, 2020 rated it liked it
***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway***

It's very "in" right now to write biographies by just dropping the reader in at a point and then filling in the details as you go from there. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of this style but have read some books that do it well (The Price of Peace comes to mind). I don't think this book did it particularly well, unfortunately. I walk away without a connection to Henry Bergh and that connection is, for me, what makes biographies great.

The birth of the
George Jacobs
Nov 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Winston Churchill once stated, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
In that spirit, I was immediately attracted by the title of the book A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement by Ernest Freeberg, a professor of History at University of Tennessee, in the U.S. The book not only teaches much about the lives of people and other animals in the U.S. in the first 25 years after the end of the Civil War (1861-1865), it also gives u
Kate Lawrence
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
What an amazingly dedicated, if somewhat eccentric, animal activist Bergh was! The period of his groundbreaking work was 1866 - 1886, when nearly all business, agriculture, and most transportation depended on horse power. He founded the ASPCA, America's first animal anticruelty organization, and successfully promoted an anticruelty law that became a model for similar legislation elsewhere. He was repeatedly ridiculed in the press, but recognized that those articles led more people to think and t ...more
Chad Guarino
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
A Traitor to His Species is the morbidly entertaining tale of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh and his tireless mission to convince Gilded Age mindsets to take animal rights seriously. Ernest Freeberg treats his subject honestly and fairly throughout, painting an admirable portrait of a noble, yet very flawed man and movement who faced ridicule and skepticism from a public convinced of man’s dominion over the “dumb brutes” that increasingly crowded their lives in growing cities. The narrative can be a ...more
Kelly Pore
Nov 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received a complimentary eARC for an honest review of this book.

In the late 1800s, Henry Bergh had no reason to give a flip about animal welfare. In today’s times, we’d call him a “trust fund baby.” His family benefited durning the Gilded Age, he didn’t have to worry about making a living.

However, connections and fate let him to a diplomatic post in St. Petersburg, during which he observed the cruelest treatment of an exhausted horse and it stirred his moral crusade. This isn’t to say that he
Dec 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very inciteful reading about Henry Bergh, the man who began the movement for animal rights in establishing the SPCA. He accomplished much in gaining sentiment and compassion for abused animals used for human profit and greed. From horses worked to death for pulling overloaded trolleys,horses maimed due to pulling barges and protecting animals that were eventually destroyed for human consumption and killing off feral dogs , who were overwhelming in the cities. He dedicated his mission for animals ...more
Nov 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
While this book is partly a fascinating biography of Henry Bergh, it is more so a gripping, and frequently disturbing, look at the lives of animals in Gilded Age America. Bergh was a real character who roamed the streets of late nineteenth century New York trying to improve the living conditions (and end-of-life conditions) for all sorts of animals. He fought for turtles who were tortured on their way to becoming soup. He fought against the cruelties of shooting pigeons for target practice. He f ...more
Dec 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As an animal liberation activist, this was an important book to read. While I don’t find Henry Bergh to have been an animal rights advocate, I do see how his work was so very important to the origin of the movement. Most of Bergh’s work would be considered animal welfarism which is completely different from animal rights/liberation. This book was very thoroughly researched and written in an engaging style. I’m usually not one for history books but I found this to be a good read for everyone, not ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I won this book in a giveaway on Goodreads. I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The way the writer presents the history and facts is not often seen, From the explanation's of the way the turtles were bound to the way the gas chamber was used. Though while the author mention's Henry Bergh's nationalism he skirted around it and put more focus on the good and outlandish things, I wish there had of been more of a emphasis on his racism being wrong than just an unfortunate quality. The images used in th ...more
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Every generation of readers deserves a fresh biography of this great enigma of the 19th century--a man who idled away most of his life before finding his cause in his later years; a sensitive sort who would court ridicule in the newspapers if it advanced his mission; a dandified gent who fought carriage drivers in the streets and waded ankles-deep in slaughterhouse gore; a savior to dumb beasts who wasn't really fond of animals, and even less so of humans; and a fanatic whose cause was righteous ...more
Michelle Yearick
I chose this book based on the title alone. I do not consider myself an animal rights activist but a passive supporter of the movement. All in all, I enjoyed this book. The book was thoroughly researched and largely entertaining. I did find the middle to be a bit jumbled chronologically, but it still remained readable. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the outgrowth of the abolitionist movement to combat animal abuse and, to an extent, child abuse in the decades following the Civil W ...more
Oct 24, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting look at a man far ahead of his time and the way that Gilded Age people horribly mistreated animals. A few sections could get a little dry, but it was pretty amazing to see how much Bergh's idea spread through years of his work and after his death. I also appreciate that the book does show his prejudices, though I would have liked to see a bit more acknowledgment of him being a racist and being against vaccines. ...more
Rose Hriz
Sep 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, giveaways
Henry Bergh at the age of 53 created the ASPCA to stop the cruelty of animals. This is a story about the creation of the ASPCA and the fight against cruelty.

I had never heard of Henry Bergh and this was an interesting biography. It is divided into chapters of the fights the ASPCA took on to protect animals during his lifetime. He had many successes but also failures in trying to stop the cruelty. It is sad to say that the fight to prevent cruelty is still ongoing over a century later.

Thank you@
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
If you are an animal lover like me or someone interested in American history,
this is a fascinating book to read about the very first days of an anti-animal cruelty movement.
Jane Rhea
Dec 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
I'm not sure I kept the historical timeline straight but I learned some interesting things. ...more
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Animal rights have been around for generations and there are always individuals who stood up to fight for them. This is one of those stories. Henry Bergh was a man ahead of his time but also a necessary figure whose actions shaped our lives and the relationships we have formed to protect the animals for whom we care.
(Also, an excellent bibliography!)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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