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"Cattle have come on a long journey with us, from pastoral times to settled agriculture, from the New World to post-industrialism." So writes popular historian and children's-book author Laurie Carlson in this wide-ranging meditation on the relationship between humans and cattle throughout human history.
Though her narrative suffers from a somewhat scattered approach, Carlson has much to say about that long journey. Cattle have shaped human societies for millennia, she notes, figuring prominently in the lives and imaginations of the cave dwellers of Paleolithic Europe, the farmers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and 19th-century Australia, South America, and the American West, to name but a few. She stops in at each of these times and places, pondering curiosities as she does. Along the way, for instance, she writes of scandals involving tainted beef served to American field soldiers during the Spanish-American War and subsequent advances in food safety; the efforts of German scientists to reverse-breed cattle to arrive at the ancestral aurochs, extinct for nearly four centuries; the ravages of "zoonoses," or animal-borne diseases such as smallpox and cowpox; and the role of the cattle industry in the development of transcontinental railroads. She also observes that cattle husbandry has gone from an economic given to a source of controversy throughout much of the world, thanks to the rise of new bovine diseases and the effects of overgrazing on already threatened environments. --Gregory McNamee [via]