Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization
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Veteran journalist Andrew Lawler delivers a “fascinating and delightful…globetrotting tour” (Wall Street Journal) with the animal that has been most crucial to the spread of civilization—the chicken.
In a masterful combination of historical sleuthing and journalistic adventure, veteran reporter Andrew Lawler “opens a window on civilization, evolution, capitalism, and ethics” (New York) with a fascinating account of the most successful of all cross-species relationships—the partnership between human and chicken. This “splendid book full of obsessive travel and research in history” (Kirkus Reviews) explores how people through the ages embraced the chicken as a messenger of the gods, an all-purpose medicine, an emblem of resurrection, a powerful sex symbol, a gambling aid, a handy research tool, an inspiration for bravery, the epitome of evil, and, of course, the star of the world’s most famous joke.
Queen Victoria was obsessed with the chicken. Socrates’s last words embraced it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur used it for scientific breakthroughs. Religious leaders of all stripes have praised it. Now neuroscientists are uncovering signs of a deep intelligence that offers insights into human behavior.
Trekking from the jungles of southeast Asia through the Middle East and beyond, Lawler discovers the secrets behind the fowl’s transformation from a shy, wild bird into an animal of astonishing versatility, capable of serving our species’ changing needs more than the horse, cow, or dog. The natural history of the chicken, and its role in entertainment, food history, and food politics, as well as the debate raging over animal welfare, comes to light in this “witty, conversational” (Booklist) volume.
Encyclopaedia: An Epitome of Universal Knowledge (New York: Collier, 1898), vol. 5; s.v. “Poultry.” 120 Eggs were also used to: Lawrence, Moubray’s Treatise on Domestic and Ornamental Poultry, 48. 120 As the Windsor aviary: Illustrated. 121 “In order to improve”: Berkshire Chronicle, September 28, 1844. 121 London’s first poultry show: Poultry Science 47, 1968, 1–1048. 121 Europe’s wet June continued: Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (New York: Knopf, 2011),
day!” When poultry prices tripled in Iran recently, the nation’s police chief warned television producers not to broadcast images of people eating the popular meat to avoid inciting violence among those who could not afford grilled kebabs. The chicken has, quietly but inexorably, become essential. Though it can barely fly, the fowl has become the world’s most migratory bird through international imports and exports. The various parts of a single bird may end up at opposite ends of the globe.
curriculum of the scribal schools, built roads, and provided the first inns for travelers. Shulgi also is credited with creating the world’s first zoo by collecting exotic animals from far-flung lands. The royal pastime of collecting animals like camels and oryx that were unknown to Mesopotamia continued for several decades until the reign of the dynasty’s last king, Ibbi-Sin. The king of Marhashi—likely part of today’s Iran—sent him what was reported by puzzled scribes as an extraordinary
chopped up into pieces.” On October 30, 1878, a package containing the heart of a young rooster arrived at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The bird had died in Toulouse after being injected with a deadly disease then sweeping French flocks. At that time, the only vaccines available were for illnesses like smallpox and cowpox. The unaltered virus usually stimulated antibodies and protected the patient, but it could also kill. At first Louis Pasteur, a world-famous and busy scientist in his
the eclipse plumage phase, so Beebe saw this as a sign of “an infusion of the blood of native village birds” into the wild genome. Nearly a century passed before another biologist realized that the ancestor of the world’s most prolific bird and humanity’s most important domesticated animal was slowly and inexorably vanishing, a victim of its own evolutionary success as Asia’s expanding chicken flocks threatened to overwhelm the wild bird’s genetic integrity. Its passing could blot out the first