“The book”s design and illustrations are beautiful, which means, I suspect, that Cow will be probably bought most often as a gift–for country lovers, perhaps. . . . Velten has a passion for her subject and it comes across. Her account is sweeping but precisely detailed and subtly persuasive. . . . Look hard at cows and you learn about humans. Fascinating and delightful.”
From the milk we drink in the morning, to the leather shoes we slip on for the day, to the steak we savor at dinner, our daily lives are thoroughly bound up with cows. Yet there is a far more complex story behind this seemingly benign creature, which Hannah Velten explores here, plumbing the rich trove of myth, fact, and legend surrounding these familar animals.
From the plowing field to the rodeo to the temple, Velten tracks the constantly changing social relationship between man and cattle, beginning with the domestication of aurochs around 9000 BCE. From there, Cow launches into a fascinating story of religious fanaticism, scientific exploits, and the economic transformations engendered by the trade of the numerous products derived from the animal. She explores in engaging detail how despite cattle’s prominence at two ends of a wide spectrum: Hinduism venerates the cow as one of the most sacred members of the animal kingdom, while beef is a prized staple of the American diet. Thought provoking and informative, Cow restores this oft-overlooked animal to the nobility it richly deserves.
If you happen to see it at a bookstore, my photo is on page 92, and my credit on page 204.
Oh, and since I’m flipping through the book as a prelude to reading it, and postponing returning to work, here’s page 69 (and part of page 68 for context):
The Spanish herdsman, Ambrosio, who is used to the ‘pride and the nimble rage of a young bull from Coruña’, takes charge of a herd of twelve Simmental dairy cows in Switzerland. He is unable to admire the cows, but:…he couldn’t deny that these overbred bodies had something reassuringly decent about them, it might well be dull, but the warmth they radiated, their incessaqnt inner activity, their endless ruminating, digesting, multiplying, lactating, producing-even-while-they-slept, all that impressed Ambrosio in spite of himself. Sometimes their uninterrupted productivity seemed positively god-like to him, and he learned to respect it.
The cow symbolizes maternal nourishment because of her ability to provide milk. In effect, she is the Mother of humans, and by inference also of the gods. Her milking ability is her passport to greatness. There is nothing more to her: milk is her raison d’être, as simply put by the American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971):
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.