By Jon Hochschartner
ABOVE IMAGE: ANIMAL RIGHTS FIGHTER RONNIE LEE
Of course, any list like this entirely subjective. Different works speak to different people for different reasons. Hell, my list of the greatest movies probably fluctuates by the day! All that said, I’d like to count down my favorite animal rights books, as they currently stand. If you haven’t read these, consider picking them up online or from your local library. And if they’re only distantly familiar, maybe you’re due for some rereads. I know I am.
5. “Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict” By David Nibert — In this powerful history, the author demonstrates how war has often been linked to humans’ need to seize land to accommodate their livestock populations. This is just one social ill, among a number of others, which Nibert traces to animal agriculture, exacerbated by the development of capitalism. He’s a socialist, and to the benefit of his text, it shows. Nibert reminds me of a sort of vegan Howard Zinn, who of course was the author of “A People’s History of the United States.” That’s high praise, in case it wasn’t clear.
4. “Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance” By Jason Hribal — Some might believe this book, which documents instances of animals attacking their human masters, is merely an exercise in misanthropy. Such an exercise would be understandable, given the depth and scale of human violence against our fellow earthlings. But this book is more than that. It showcases the agency of animals, which is often missing from accounts of their exploitation. In his accounts of tigers and orcas killing their tormentors, Hribal reminds us nonhumans don’t passively accept their fate.
3. “An Unnatural Order: Roots of Our Destruction of Nature” By Jim Mason — This is the book on this list I’m most eager to revisit. In it, the author takes us back approximately 10,000 years, to the beginnings of animal agriculture. Prior to this, in Mason’s view, humans saw themselves as part of the natural world. But afterwards, humans saw nature as something to be dominated and controlled. Nothing would ever be the same, as this “dominionist” mindset infected all aspects of human civilization, including our relationships with each other. As an author myself, this is one of those works I wish I was capable of writing.
2. “The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century” By Steven Best — While this book was released in 2014, it amounts to a greatest-hits collection from the author, whose work I’ve been reading since 2005. Much of his output serves as an ideological defense of underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front. In recent years, I’ve increasingly come to see individualist actions as ineffective when compared to collective struggle for political change. I believe this, perhaps naively, even as we enter the era of Donald Trump. Still, I remain deeply inspired by Best’s uncompromising adoption of what he calls “the animal standpoint.” He’s been a profound influence on me, as I suspect he’s been for many animal activists my age.
1. “Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement” By Peter Singer — Admittedly, the book’s current subtitle is irritating. I often find myself rolling my eyes when someone traces the origins of the animal movement to 1975, when this text was published. And yet, it was this book, as it’s been for so many others, that first opened my eyes to the moral seriousness of the problem of human exploitation of animals. I agree with critics who say Singer’s utilitarianism is far too open to interpretation, and could be used to justify horrible abuses of animals and humans. But really, it was his clear introduction to the concept of speciesism, a term coined by Richard Ryder, which has had the longest-lasting impact on me.
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