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The Lives of Animals

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  2,451 ratings  ·  200 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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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

this has SO much packed into it about animal rights and vegetarianism - literary theory, philosophical theory, etc. I love how Coetzee presents info but also tells a story in his works.
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
Jan 02, 2011 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 03, 2013 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)
Nov 16, 2014 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
Jul 20, 2009 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 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 sub ...more
Dec 03, 2011 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 socia ...more
Manuel Alfonseca
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
ENGLISH: This book by a Nobel Prize, well-known vegetarian, defender of the rights of animals, is very well written and tries to keep an impartial tone where the main character, Elizabeth Costello, defends her position in public, is answered by those who do not share her ideas, and sometimes even cannot answer.

ESPAÑOL: Este libro de un Premio Nobel, conocido vegetariano, defensor de los derechos de los animales, está muy bien escrito y trata de mantener un tono imparcial. El personaje principal,
Troy Martin
Jan 25, 2015 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 co ...more
Hiram Diaz III
Oct 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
Not only is the self-consciously irrational moralistic grandstanding an annoyance that is nearly impossible to stomach, Coetzee's characters are predictable, two-dimensional, depthless stereotypes. Throughout the book, as if he wanted to add insult to aesthetic-intellectual injury, Coetzee follows Costello's incoherent ramblings with thinly-disguised apologies for just how poorly written her diatribe actually is.

There is no brilliance to this work. It's an even worse faux-novel than Nietzsche's
Saul Chan Htoo Sang
Coetzee masterfully crafted and delivered a meta-fictional novella based on the heated debates on the rights of Animals at the Third Tanner Lecture sponsored by the Princeton University Center for Human Values. To his lecture, four thinkers and writers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds (namely Literature, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Anthropology) reflected and wrote short pieces about their thoughts on Coetzee’s lecture.

Recommended to anyone who is interested in how literature challe
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Hyper-intellectual yawn. Nothing about this little book flows. There is no poetry in it. For a potentially emotionally charged subject, it is cold and text book-ish. Thank goodness it was short. Two stars because I agree with the animal rights angle, myself a vegan. Otherwise, not a pleasurable read.
Sep 17, 2014 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,
Jan 13, 2015 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
Dec 18, 2009 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
Dec 03, 2008 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 regard 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 oth
Nov 06, 2010 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.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
I really disliked this book. I am a vegetarian, and I think this book could only provoke even more hate and disapproval towards vegetarians, because of poor and inconclusive arguments. Also, philosophy is not a good framework for this, because it is too abstract for something so real, so painful and so tangible, so touchable. Extremely not convincing and just plain old "doing it wrong".
Jan 13, 2009 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 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 rated it really liked it
yep. vegetarian for sure now.
Dec 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
Coetzee, how could you? Really, a holocaust metaphor? Eating meat is not the same at that. Ugh
Oct 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university
3,5 stars
Lukasz Pruski
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
"He pulls the car over, switches off the engine, takes his mother in his arms. He inhales the smell of cold cream, of old flesh. 'There, there,' he whispers in her ear. 'There, there. It will soon be over.'"

The article in Wikipedia about The Lives of Animals (1999) classifies the book as a metafictional novella, which is not an accurate characterization. The Lives is not a novella but rather a collection of diverse literary pieces: it contains two honorific lectures, a report of the audience r
Prooost Davis
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The novelist J.M. Coetzee was invited to give a Tanner Lecture at Princeton University. As the invitee, Coetzee was permitted to speak on any topic he chose, and his choice was human mistreatment of animals. His lecture, however, was in the form of a fiction: one of the characters from his novels, Elizabeth Costello, is invited to give just such a lecture at a fictional university. This device allows Coetzee to express his own concerns, while at the same time having other characters challenge hi ...more
This is a short fiction book on the debate on the lives of animals and their worth compared to human lives. Very well written, it walks the reader through the philosophical arguments around this debate (even with footnotes), while frame it in the story of a family of academics and of university politics. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it is definitely food for thought.
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read. My version also had responses from several experts in their fields; my favorite was Barbara Smuts’ piece on interspecies friendship.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals
Excellently written discussion on animal rights and ethics of currently prevailing human approach towards animals.
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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. 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.

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