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Publisher's Summary

From ancient empires to modern economics, veteran journalist Andrew Lawler delivers a sweeping history of the animal that has been most crucial to the spread of civilization across the globe: the chicken.

Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrates' last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, African shamans, Chinese philosophers, and Muslim mystics praised it. Throughout the history of civilization, humans have embraced it in every form imaginable--as a messenger of the gods, a powerful sex symbol, a gambling aid, an emblem of resurrection, an all-purpose medicine, a handy research tool, an inspiration for bravery, the epitome of evil, and, of course, the star of the world's most famous joke.

In Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?, science writer Andrew Lawler takes us on an adventure from prehistory to the modern era with a fascinating account of the partnership between human and chicken (the most successful of all cross-species relationships). Beginning with the recent discovery in Montana that the chicken's unlikely ancestor is T. rex, this audiobook builds on Lawler's popular Smithsonian cover article, "How the Chicken Conquered the World", to track the chicken from its original domestication in the jungles of Southeast Asia some 10,000 years ago to postwar America, where it became the most engineered of animals, to the uncertain future of what is now humanity's single most important source of protein.

In a masterful combination of historical sleuthing and journalistic exploration on four continents, Lawler reframes the way we feel and think about our most important animal partner--and, by extension, all domesticated animals and even nature itself. Lawler's narrative reveals the secrets behind the chicken's transformation from a shy jungle bird into an animal of astonishing versatility, capable of serving our species' changing needs.

©2014 Andrew Lawler (P)2014 Audible Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Oddly organized, but stirring

The chapter organization of this book is pretty baffling, but the story it tells is moving, capturing the history and ethical dilemmas of the most common bird in the world.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I thought it would be interesting

This must be a book you like a lot or don’t like a lot. With machine-gun rapidity it hits you with a stream of factoids tied together by some relationship to a theme but without much continuity—nothing to make the reader interested in what’s coming next.

I’ve tried listening to several sections of the book and all are of a kind—one fact after another. You might say “What did this guy expect? It’s a book about chickens.” Maybe so, but I thought it would be interesting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Who would have thought

Well I was totally blown away by this little book and it's fascinating story of the simple chicken. Who would have thought that it could have had such an interesting history. A must read for anybody who needs a change from other subjects. This book explains the history of domesticating chickens to modern industrial chicken processing. Sounds sort of boring but it is the total opposite. Great read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Highly recommended.

Lots of detail. Interesting background stories. It is important that we understand history, even if it is about chickens.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Valuable and Yet Undervalued

Would you consider the audio edition of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? to be better than the print version?

I think the print version is better than the audio. There is so much information in the text it is easy to miss some by inattentiveness. In addition, print affords more ease in returning to earlier parts of the book to review earlier data. At the same time, Mr Holland's delivery is clear and well-modulated, so he is easy to listen to.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World??

The discussion of American naturalists' efforts to secure, breed, and raise truly wild red jungle fowl. Lawyer's text documented the frustration, anxiety, and concern of the very few scientist-farmers of the early twentieth century who, unsupported by the federal government, took it upon themselves and their own wallets to protect the wild genome.

Have you listened to any of Dennis Holland’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not, so I cannot comment concerning this question.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

There are so many! But I never knew any chicken could fly. Having heard this, I Googled "red jungle fowl" and found YouTubes showing the same.

Any additional comments?

Who'd have thought a book about chickens could be interesting to a non-farmer? Yet as a consumer of eggs and lots of chicken, I am concerned about the deplorable conditions in which many chickens are raised in the US, and the loss of flavour caused by breeding for size.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Chick lit of another kind. Interesting, Ends Sad

The first several chapters were exactly the kind of little known background information about a generally unexamined element of our daily life that I love to learn. The end of the book is about factory farming and I found it very disturbing. It did feel like the book boobytrapped me at the end there.

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Brave as a... Chicken?

Andrew Lawler spins a yarn interleaving obscure facts, popular misconceptions, and futuristic possibilities. The role of chickens in the economic liberation of women and American blacks is featured here as an unsung ode to the versatility of this closest of man's barnyard companions. Chickens help us to roll back the mists of time letting us glimpse into the influences which shaped humanity's spread across the globe. To the uninitiated the chickens herein are a wonderful mishmash of the natural worlds contribution to our quality of life. By juxtaposing anthropomorphic traits with characteristics of the truly wild which only the heritage of the Tyrannosaurus rex can bestow. The significance of the chicken to religion, medicine, and science have deep roots in the past, and maybe the key to a humane tomorrow where man lives side by side in dignity with the livestock he relies upon for sustenance.

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informative while enjoyable.

I love it when I can learn while enjoying the process. First rate from start to finish.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but a bit dry




A livelier narration would have helped, but as it is it wasn't riveting. Still, the author is right about the chicken being woefully overlooked, and offers some interesting insights on our avian companion