Furstinger examines the life of 19th-century animal rights champion Henry Bergh.
Born an heir to a New York shipbuilder’s fortune in 1813, Bergh left college, traveled, and dabbled unsuccessfully as a writer. In 1863, he served in a diplomatic post in Russia. After stopping a carriage horse’s merciless beating, Bergh seemingly experienced “an epiphany when he discovered that his words really could have power to halt cruelty.” Resigning his post in 1865, Bergh met the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London and returned to New York, his life’s passion finally ignited. Furstinger follows Bergh’s 22-year career as he founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866 and enforced New York state’s new anti-cruelty law, arresting and prosecuting many. The author unflinchingly describes the misery of 19th-century urban domestic animals: horses literally worked to death pulling streetcars, dogs forced to fight to death for sport, cows fed an alcoholic distillery mash that poisoned them, their milk, and the infants who drank it. Bergh was celebrated and derided, and his tireless work for animals got a shake-up in 1874, when he founded the world’s first child protection agency. Desjardins’ digital illustrations, grim yet oddly fanciful, seem misplaced here.
Well-documented, with sidebars on Alcott, Darwin, public health, child labor, and more, Furstinger’s lively narrative fills a void. (maps, period photographs, author’s note, timeline, quotation notes, bibliography, website) (Biography. 9-12)