Entertaining and informative, Pets in America is a portrait of Americans' relationships with the cats, dogs, birds, fishes, rodents, and other animals we call our own. More than 60 percent of U.S. households have pets, and America grows more pet-friendly every day. But as Katherine Grier demonstrates, the ways we talk about and treat our pets - as companions, as children, and as objects of beauty, status, or pleasure - have their origins long ago.
Grier begins with a natural history of animals as pets, then discusses the changing role of pets in family life, new standards of animal welfare, the problems presented by borderline cases such as livestock pets, and the marketing of both animals and pet products. She focuses particularly on the period between 1840 and 1940, when the emotional, behavioral, and commercial characteristics of contemporary pet keeping were established. This audiobook is peppered with the warmth and humor of anecdotes from period diaries, letters, catalogs, and newspapers.
Pets in America ultimately shows how the history of pets has evolved alongside changing ideas about human nature, child development, and community life. This audiobook accompanied a museum exhibit, "Pets in America," which opened at the McKissick Museum in Columbia, South Carolina, in December 2005 and travelled to five other cities from May 2006 through May 2008.
This scholarly and engaging audiobook is for any animal lover, or even any curious person who wonders where the heck Halloween costumes and bakeries for pets came from.
Grier explores the roles different traditional pets have played throughout American history: dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and more. She talks about the difference between “owning animals” like livestock, and “having pets,” as well as how and why some animals have made the crossover while others haven’t.
It’s full of snippets from historical documents (lost pet ads etc.), and anecdotes from Grier’s life. These personal passages about her connection to animals are especially touching. I’ll admit, it made me a wee bit jealous that the author has had so many animals, and even got a pony for her 14th birthday that she raised, rode, and nursed back to health after a trailer accident.
Narrator, Elisa Carlson has a warm tone that works for such a tender subject, and does a great job of keeping the historical material clear and organized. It’s easy to tell when she’s reading quoted material.
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What did you like most about Pets in America?
This is an interesting book about a fascinating subject - the anthropology of pet keeping in the West, and in the US in particular. Grier tells a good story, and the tone is very engaging, but the subject deserves more depth and breadth of research.
What three words best describe Elisa Carlson’s performance?
Elisa Carlson's reading is highly professional, almost to the point of being slightly robotic, and occasionally sounds as though she has 'lost' the meaning of the sentence she's narrating. I found this slightly distracting, but it did not spoil the book for me.
Any additional comments?
Clearly, the history of pet keeping is a huge subject, and one which will hopefully be properly covered by an anthropologist at some point in the future. As it stands, this book is a fairly superficial social history by a non-expert, who throws in a few anecdotes for good measure. Enjoyable, and an easy and sometimes amusing listen.