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

Ernest Freeberg. Basic, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-09386-1
University of Tennessee historian Freeberg (The Age of Edison) delivers an evocative biography of Henry Bergh (1813–1888), founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The heir to an industrial fortune, Bergh founded the ASPCA in New York in 1866, and over the next two decades led nationwide animal rights campaigns. Drawing parallels between animal welfare and abolitionism, Bergh convinced New York lawmakers to criminalize animal cruelty and empower ASPCA officers to intervene in cases of abuse. Though the law had wide public and official support when it came to obvious cases such as abandoning old livestock to die of starvation, Bergh pushed for anticruelty measures to be applied to more commonly accepted practices, including dogfighting, rat baiting, and shipping turtles upside down and bound together with rope that “pierced through their flippers, creating wounds that still oozed after weeks at sea.” Bergh’s crusades, many of which pitted him against circus impresario P.T. Barnum, often made him a figure of public ridicule, Freeberg writes, but were part of a rising new belief that “cruelty was a social problem that could and must be addressed.” Freeberg marshals a wealth of detail in tracking Bergh’s campaigns and paints a vivid picture of Gilded Age America. Animal lovers and history buffs will savor this immersive account. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/08/2020
Release date: 09/22/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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