cover image Cow: A Bovine Biography

Cow: A Bovine Biography

Florian Werner, trans. from the German by Doris Ecker. Douglas & McIntyre/Greystone (PGW, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-55365-581-7

Werner's book tells the story of what cows have meant to people, what we say about them, and what that says about us. His sources range from the Hindu Vedas, to Roland Barthes, to Gary Larson, and he manages to arrange their diverse voices into a compelling, if peculiar, conversation. The book covers the more obvious aspects of "cowness"%E2%80%94from milk, to beef, to their sacredness or lack thereof%E2%80%94as well as some unexpected surprises, such as an extended consideration of the mournful implications of mooing and brief (but thoroughly distressing) expos%C3%A9s on bovine erotica. Werner's background as a literary scholar manifests itself in careful interpretations of myths, poems, and idioms%E2%80%94some compelling and others a bit far-flung. Nevertheless, the book presents a fascinating and detailed picture of the universe of the cow, and the pleasures of discovering that St. Augustine likened the work of memory to the way "cattle bring up food from the stomach when they chew the cud" more than make up for the occasional logical stretch. Cows, Werner (Rapocalypse) insists, are full of more than burgers and milk and methane. They are loaded with centuries of art, poetry, and philosophy, and this book provides an engaging tour of their pasture. Illus. (Mar.)