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Pets in America: A History Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 1, 2006

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In an encyclopedic history, Grier describes the changing cultural sensibilities that have defined the experience of American pet owners from colonial times to the present. Grier, an expert on material culture at the Winterthur Museum (one of several museums that will display a traveling exhibition of the same title), draws on diaries, magazines, advice books, illustrations and photographs for this serious book reflecting the author's interest in the symbolic and metaphorical role pets play in our culture. Grier's definition of "pet" is broad and includes domestic animals like urban horses as well as chickens and pigs, which were routinely raised by children on farms as quasi-pets. Although she is primarily interested in human-animal relationships, Grier doesn't neglect the developing commercial multibillion-dollar pet industry (Ralston Purina, Grier relates, began as a livestock feed company, adding dog food only in 1926). Scholarly, thorough, informative and animal friendly as the book is, Grier would have made many readers even happier had she occasionally eschewed seriousness in favor of the rich satirical grounds the excesses of pet-ownership provide. B&w photos. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"A welcome addition to the field."
-- American Historical Review

"Scholars of the history of human-animal relations have eagerly anticipated this book, and the result exceeds expectations."
Journal of American History

"A good social and cultural history of pet keeping in America . . . [A history] that will last us a while."
Winterthur Portfolio

"Few scholars know more about the complex interactions between people and the animals that share their lives than Kasey Grier."
The Hunt

"Pets in America is a labor of love and a delight to read."
James A. Serpell, University of Pennsylvania

"Witty, richly illustrated, and entertaining."
Joy Kasson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Grier has produced a wonderful book, full of careful scholarship and charming anecdotes."
Andrew N. Rowan, Executive Vice President, Humane Society of the United States
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (February 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807829900
  • ASIN: B0078XZ3YA
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,449,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon Hunt on May 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Pets in America", an astonishingly comprehensive new book by Katherine C. Grier, relates the history of pets as we have known them from the earliest days of our nation. In doing so, she has given us a compelling look at the evolution of how different animals became popular pets, how we treat pets as a society and what their needs are compared to ours.

Grier begins by asking "what is a pet?" and then follows up with remarks about "why pets matter". She sets the stage for the reader to begin to view the animals we call "pets" (and what Americans in the nineteenth century called "favorites") in a different way than just furry little creatures that greet us upon our return home. One of the many surprises I found in reading "Pets in America" was that one hundred to one hundred fifty years ago the most popular pet to have was a caged bird. She explains part of the reason by saying that there was far less noise around then and songbirds added a cheerful level of volume that was most welcome in many homes.

While Grier's book understandably covers dogs, cats, birds and fish as the most common pets to find around the house, there is also a good deal of writing about livestock animals.....horses, swine, barnyard fowl and rabbits. There are many quotes from diarists of the 1800s and the most alluring ones come from children. Being much closer to "pets as dinner" she quotes a few girls who couldn't stand the thought of losing a newborn calf or lamb, knowing that it would end up on someone's dinner table....possibly their own. There's also a charming section on "the Bunnie States of America"....a club set up in 1898 by the children of an Albany, New York couple who had rules and regulations for their club, held meetings and wrote of the happenings of their beloved rabbits.
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Format: Hardcover
It's true that Americans love their pets. Ask anyone at school or work and your will usually get quite a story about the family pet. Katherine Grier's Pets in America: A History is a wonderful attempt to trace the history of pets in America. It is ironic to see how the social development of Americans so closely parallels the sociological importance of our pets.

This book is absolutely recommended for you or the pet lover in your life. It is filled with little pithy facts about pet ownership down through the ages. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to read of George Washington's hounds and the level to which his personal correspondence referenced them.

Pet ownership has existed in some form since the 1500s and continues to grow in popularity. I found it intriguing how much of pet inclusion is tied directly to our sociological evolution. For instance, our incorporation of pets into photographs directly corresponds to American's desire to share memories with their posterity. The modern purveyor of the digital camera doesn't even give Fluffy a second thought to being included in a photo spread.

Grier also shares the realities for capitalism which increasing pet ownership brought to America. In some of these sections the minutiae will creep to the surface. You would be ill advised to sit down and read it in a few sittings. I did this and found myself absorbed in the details.

Instead, read this book in small chunks. It is filled with incredible information about pet ownership - and every pet lover will find it a must have for their library. George Bernard Shaw said it best: "Animals are my friends, and I don't eat my friends." I wouldn't recommend you eat your pets - but I do recommend you read this book.

Armchair Interviews says: This is a yummy book!
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Format: Hardcover
Katherine F. Grier’s Pets in America is a fascinating account of how our patterns of behaviour have changed over three centuries with regard to the species we live with and the reasons we do so.

In the 1700s and 1800s, Americans shared their homes and properties, as well as the city streets where they lived, with a greater number of species (e.g., cats, dogs, cows, chickens, pigs, horses) than we do today even though ‘more than 60 percent of American households contained pet animals.’ (p. 315)

In this country’s short history, the numbers of animals, companions or otherwise, that it has consumed is beyond comprehension. For example, Grier notes that the number of canaries imported into the U.S. was ‘more than 20,000 in the decade before 1853, 10,000 in 1853 alone, and 20,000 each year by 1867.’ (p. 241)

America’s pets is big business, which Grier charts with great detail over the centuries. Surprisingly, today, she states that as a ‘percentage of the entire American economy, with a $10.4 trillion gross domestic product in 2002, the pet industry is small [$34.4 billion].’ (p. 316)

Nonetheless, all these millions of animals who were seen to be a ’fancy’ — an earlier term for a pet or companion animal, they are all individual animals each one with a unique personality. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects to Grier’s book is how she charts the transition from the anonymity, if you will, of the chickens and pigs who people used to live alongside with to the emergence of a ’biography’ and identity for those animals who became people’s pets. She quotes many fascinating accounts written over the years about how people described their relationship with the animals they lived with.
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