cover image CATTLE: An Informal Social History

CATTLE: An Informal Social History

Laurie Winn Carlson, . . Ivan R. Dee, $27.50 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-56663-388-8

Carlson (A Fever in Salem; Boss of the Plains: The Hat that Won the West) offers a well-researched exploration of the symbiotic relationship between humans and cattle. Beginning with prehistoric cave drawings, she traces the history of cattle through domestication, agriculture and industrialization, which, she argues, has led to current concerns about food safety. In Europe, domesticated cattle herds led to the development of clans with social hierarchies and complex rule systems. She plumbs the link between woman and cattle: because women cared for the herd, Carlson argues that such societies were "largely female-dominated, or at least gender neutral." She examines the halcyon days of cattle ranching in the American West, exploring early conflicts between ranchers, the federal government and moneyed interests. Carlson pays particular attention to the effect American industrialization and science had on cattle and considers the ramifications of such developments as canning and refrigerated rail cars to carry meat across the country to consumers. She examines the benefits cows have brought, most notably perhaps the vaccine for smallpox, as well as concerns about mad cow disease and E. coli infections. Carlson reveals such historical footnotes as the role butter played in the Protestant reformation and makes sometimes unexpected connections, such as her ruminations on the link between selective breeding and the eugenics program in Nazi Germany. (Oct.)