Still, it’s a handy gathering of facts and opinions on our ill-used bovine friends.




A historical hodgepodge of things bovid.

At the outset, Carlson (A Fever in Salem, 1999, etc.) notes that cattle ranching is today one of the great polarizing issues in world ecology, cattle being both destructive and voracious. Though she recognizes the dangers of cattle grazing in sensitive landscapes, she mostly comes down on the side of the cattle keepers in this wide-angle view of the role of ranching in human societies around the world. That role is of critical importance, she writes, for “obtaining hay and feed, building pens and barns, and learning how to preserve milk and its products has changed us far more than it has changed the bovines. One could argue that they domesticated us.” Her swift-moving narrative begins with the cave paintings of western Europe, which depict the aurochs, a wild ancestor of the modern domesticated cow; it moves along to describe attempts in Hitler’s Germany to retro-breed the aurochs, long extinct, from the wilder breeds of cattle that roam the earth today, and it considers the ethical questions associated with the modern tendency to treat cattle as food-producing machines rather than things with faces and minds. In between, the author touches on just about every possible oddment and bit of trivia that bears on cows, from political scandals surrounding the use of preservatives in the Spanish-American War to the history of margarine (“a food so sterile that no living matter can exist in it”). Carlson’s narrative is easy enough to absorb, although it often reads like an assemblage of index cards, mixing quoted and cribbed material with ill-fitting transitions. The author has relied on only a few printed sources at that, some of them erroneous and outdated: anthropologists, for instance, are no longer comfortable maintaining that cattle cultures are more egalitarian than, say, fishing societies, and it’s a stretch to suggest that women suffer from depression more than men because they eat less red meat.

Still, it’s a handy gathering of facts and opinions on our ill-used bovine friends.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2001

ISBN: 1-56663-388-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.


The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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