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Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History Hardcover – December 29, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Harriet Ritvo is a world authority on the history of animals and a pioneer in the important developing field of animal studies. A number of these essays are classics. Taken together, they reveal an author at the height of her intellectual and interpretive powers.

(Janet Browne, Harvard University, author of Darwin’s "Origin of Species": A Biography)

No single scholar has so profoundly shaped our understanding of the significance of animals in human history as has Harriet Ritvo. Reading the works in this collection, which repeatedly demonstrate her exceptional skills as both a historical investigator and strikingly creative and compelling writer, I found myself quite simply marveling at her range and facility.

(Nigel Rothfels, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo)

In Noble Cows & Hybrid Zebras, a book of collected essays, Massachusetts Institute of Technology environmental historian Harriet Ritvo explores the idea that human history, science, and society are impossible to view truthfully if not through the lens of our interactions with the animals that share our planet. From early hunting parties and the crucial role of domesticated beasts in agriculture to pet keeping and animal experimentation, animals have helped define what it is to be human. The animal rights movement and its position on the use of animals in scientific research is a constantly recurring theme in Ritvo’s writings, and the book reveals her measured take on the issue, which may be at once challenging and illuminating to the scientist reader. "All it will take is a little compromise to protect animals from abuse without stopping scientific progress," she writes in one chapter. Another of Ritvo’s essays in Noble Cows contextualizes current debates on genetic engineering by tracing the roots of modern animal husbandry in 18th-century England. Ritvo is an important figure in the field of animal studies, and her voice comes through nicely in this compilation, reminding us that, though we split from our nonhuman cousins long ago in evolutionary time, we remain intimately connected to animals to this day.

(Bob Grant

History buffs will love Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras, a well-written collection of astute, scholarly essays exploring animals' role in human history. As Ritvo admits in her introduction, her work may very well be "the weirdest of the many weird things coming out of the humanites lately," but it is fascinating (at least for those of us interested in 19th-century English zebra hybrids). Ritvo exhaustively analyzes issues from mad-cow disease to Victorian-age animal advocacy, showing how we've come to feel the way we feel about other creatures.

(Christa Morris

About the Author

Hariet Ritvo is Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (December 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081393060X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813930602
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #867,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on October 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is on the Rorotoko list. Professor Ritvo's interview on "Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras" ran as the Rorotoko Cover Feature on July 20, 2011 (and can be read in the Rorotoko archive).
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