Why Did the Chicken Cross the World by Andrew Lawler (Book Review)

by Sam Bilton on October 19, 2015 No comments


“Add up the world’s cats, dogs, pigs, and cows and there would still be more chickens. Toss in every rat on earth and the bird still dominates. The domestic fowl is the world’s most ubiquitous bird and the most common barnyard animal. More than 20 billion chickens live on our planet at any given moment, three for every human.”

Having recently joined the scores of people in the UK who keep chickens for their eggs I was intrigued to read on to find out why this bird has become so prolific.

What is the essence of the book?

Rather than being a lame joke, Why Did the Chicken Cross the World is an in-depth study of the journey this ubiquitous fowl has made from the jungles of South East Asia to the Western dinner table. It is an intriguing look at commodity we very much take for granted. Each chapter examines the role this bird has played in different societies, so it’s not a strictly chronological path. Lawler explores Victorians fascination with this bird; cock fighting in Manila; the chickens’ use in modern medicine and just about everything in between.

About the author

Andrew Lawler is a freelance writer who has written more than a thousand articles for a dozen different magazines, including National Geographic, on topics ranging from asteroids to zebrafish. You can read more about his work on his website http://www.andrewlawler.com.

Who will like it?

If you have an inquiring mind and like your social and cultural history then this book is likely to appeal to you.

Who won’t like it?

If you couldn’t care less about the answer to the question on the front cover or prefer fiction then this isn’t going to be your thing.

What do I like about the book?

In the wrong hands this could have been quite a dull topic.  Lawler’s laid back style with humorous undertones prevents this. Plus he piques the interest by starting chapters with sentences like “The cock has no cock.” I also like the pertinent quotes at the start of each chapter, from people like Herman Melville and Alice Walker. Whilst the chicken is at the core of each chapter the areas each section covers are extremely diverse and display the wealth of research he must have undertaken to complete the book. For this alone he earns my respect.

You can hear Lawler talking about this topic in this podcast of last week’s Food Programme with Dan Saladino.

What do I dislike about the book?

Whilst I did find this book intensely fascinating at times occasionally I found the chapters a bit long winded for my liking. Fortunately, it’s a book you can dip in and out of so this is not a big issue. Plus it contains heaps of useful information so I’m sure I will return to it again and again in the future.

Where can you buy it?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World by Andrew Lawler (Duckworth Overlook) is available from Amazon priced £9.99

Sam BiltonWhy Did the Chicken Cross the World by Andrew Lawler (Book Review)

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