Animals that Changed the World

May 18th, 2011 · No Comments · Books


When I was a kid, I had no idea what the Silk Road was, much less the dramatic impact animals have had in shaping our world. In Animals that Changed the World, author Keltie Thomas brings to life not only the ancient travels along the Silk Road and other historical mile markers, but the legacies of 20+ animals, starting with animals raised for food and fibers. One example is the invention of spinning machines and automated looms created from necessity in the production of wool which in turned helped spawn the Industrial Revolution. For a Vegbooks selection, this didn’t seem like a promising start, but I was impressed with her statement on cattle contributing to climate change, “Not only do cattle and other livestock add to global warming, but they also take up nearly one-third of all the world’s land for grazing and growing livestock feed. The situation isn’t ‘udderly’ hopeless, though. We can still cut down livestock emissions and land use by simply eating less meat.” Next to these words are images of a veggie and a fruit burger. She makes a few other ethical references in the text too.

Thomas covers a quite a bit of ground in 112 pages: discussing elephants that plowed fields in Germany or helped with WWII efforts and mosquitoes that killed Alexander the Great and shut down work on the Panama Canal. Readers will be fascinated and at times saddened (guinea pigs as lab rats, beavers killed for pelts) by what they discover. But for any animal lover, it’s important to know what I call “our shared experience” or history, so that we can make our future a brighter one.

Animals that Changed the World is a condensed, but brightly designed text with engaging, pun-filled script and colorful photographs and design work. The sidebars help to keep this a dynamic, well-rounded book. “Mug Shots” brief the reader on a species’ nickname, domestication date, population numbers, habitat, and claim to fame. “Speak of the Beast” explains how animal-inspired idioms and phrases like “jumping through hoops” or “worming your way into…” came to be. “Fact Track” provides quick, interesting tidbits: “The Chinese invented fish farming 3,000 years ago. They kept carp in ponds and fed the fish waste from silkworms.”

This text is a fun way to learn about a sometimes difficult subject.

Ages 9-12.

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