Archive | March 2023

Some we Love, Some we Hate, Some we Eat

Some we Love, Some we Hate, Some we Eat: Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals by Hal Herzog is an examination of the complex and contradictory ways we interact with animals.

The book looks at our relationship with pets and working animals and how some animals are considered pets and some aren’t. The impact of breeding for specific characteristics and its often negative consequences for the animal somewhat undercuts our expression of love for these animals. One factor is our primitive response to certain features like soft fur and large eyes, which raises the question as to whether we are able to rationalise our feelings about animals or we’re simply at the mercy of biology.

The author explores vegetarianism and veganism, again highlighting the contradiction inherent in some of these positions. It was interesting to read that most people eventually return to eating meat, usually for health reasons. It contrast our squeamishness, or lack of it, around farming chickens for food and raising cocks for fighting. Many people would instinctively say that cockfighting is worse than killing chickens for food, but the life of a fighting cock seems a lot nicer than the life of a battery chicken. Through examples and contrasts like this the author is able to draw out why it’s so difficult to have a coherent approach to our relationship with animals.

One aspect of our relationship with animals is their use in the development of medicines or the understanding of biology and psychology. It seems people are more likely to take a cost-benefit approach here, prioritising the benefits to humans much higher than the suffering of animals. It also looks at our ability to convince ourselves that some animals don’t suffer or feel pain, and how research is challenging that belief. There are also stories of the researchers who become too attached to their subjects. The irony that in order to demonstrate that animals feel empathy or pain we have to experiment on them or dissect them is not lost.

Some we Hate, Some we Love, Some we Eat doesn’t take a position, perhaps a reflection of the author’s point – it’s hard to straighten all this out in your head. Through a compelling combination of storytelling and facts, Herzog lays out the various ways we use and interact with animals, and reveals the contradictions. It’s one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a while. It doesn’t lead to answers, but will make you question yourself.

A History of Ancient Britain

Pre-Roman Britain is a bit of a mystery (to me, at least). Last year, I picked up A History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver. Apparently, there was a TV series, which I didn’t realise until sometime after I read the book. I completely missed the BBC logo on the front cover.

From the time of the retreat of the ice sheet that had covered Britain – or the piece of land that would come to be what we know as Britain – roughly 10000 years ago to the arrival of the Romans, Oliver looks at the archaeological finds that tell us something about how people lived during this time.

There’s Cheddar Man, the earliest complete skeleton found in Britain and about 9000 years old, who would have lived in an environment similar to ours. There are the many stone circles and barrows and structures that may have been temples, mausoleums or houses that line up with the rising and setting of the sun. There are tools which show sophisticated technology, and the remains of mining tunnels where people burrowed for tin and copper. There are decorative and symbolic objects that tell us that people had surplus wealth, but we can only speculate what these things meant.

Then there’s the boat. The oldest known seagoing boat in the world was found in Dover in 1992. It’s about 3500 years old. Reading about it in A History of Ancient Britain inspired a trip to the Dover Museum to see it in real life. The Museum is much like any small town museum: some interesting things and a high dose of oddness. The Bronze Age Boat Gallery is amazing. The boat is in a sealed glass cabinet to ensure it doesn’t disintegrate and it surrounded by documentation about it’s construction and the project to reconstruct it using tools and techniques available to people of the time. Definitely worth the trip. It’s one of those magical museum experiences where the sense of time collapses and you can feel the overlay of the past on the present.

Neil Oliver has an engaging writing style and the book is very accessible. Interspersed with the historical facts are vignettes about the archaeologists and researchers Oliver met while filming for his various TV series (somehow I still didn’t cotton on to the fact that there was a TV series of this book, which I only discovered while looking for a cover image for this post, but in hindsight, it all makes sense now). There are also a few flights of fancy about what life might have been like for people living in Britain thousands of years ago. They are clearly signposted as imagination and help to bring it vividly to life.

I enjoyed this immensely and would highly recommend it.