A COW'S LIFE: The Surprising History of Cattle and How the Black Angus Came to Be Home on the Range

M. R. Montgomery, Author, Gerald Foster, Illustrator . Walker $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1414-5

The adjective "bovine" gains unexpected overtones of dynamism and charisma in this poky but engaging treatise. Montgomery (The Way of the Trout , etc.) traces the evolution of domesticated cattle from the huge, fierce aurochs of prehistory, notes cows' contributions to the rise of civilization ("a more complex culture was able to emerge, when mankind was nourished... by the milk and meat of the cow"), compares the cow cultures of Britain and the United States and celebrates the 19th-century emergence of bovine perfection in the form of the Aberdeen-Angus breed. Beloved of Queen Victoria, these hardy, tasty beasts apparently have personalities—Angus cows, Montgomery says, can be "egotistical," "charming" and "insouciant"—and great breeding animals are remembered by name through the generations. Montgomery travels to his cousin's Montana cattle ranch to observe the animals' daily life, delving into their bloodlines, charting the intricacies of herd behavior and offering an intimate look at their sex lives. He pauses now and then to chew the cud over cow genetics, eye the shifting fashions of cattle shows and defend the beef industry against charges of unsafe and environmentally unsound practices. Montgomery ably conveys a wealth of cattle lore with a fine eye for the details of life and landscape. Agent, Richard McDonough. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/23/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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