Framed by the author’s personal experience with backyard hens, Chickens: Their Natural and Unnatural Histories explores the history of the chicken from its descent from the dinosaurs to the space-age present. En route, Lembke surveys chickens in ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the nineteenth century, and modern times, including the role of chickens in Jewish and Muslim practices. She also investigates the birds’ contributions to science and their jaunty appearances in literature. Eggs receive a chapter of their own, as does chicken cuisine, comprising recipes from the Roman Empire to today’s favorites. Stories about chickens appear, too, often written by those who keep them, including the painter Grandma Moses, the man who holds Cleveland’s Farm Animal Permit No. 17, and Brenda, who had to give her young roosters a talking-to for behaving like sheep.
Chickens have only recently come to a sorry pass in the Western world, where broilers and laying hens are factory-farmed. Lembke investigates the fate of such birds and explores the sustainable, humane alternatives to raising birds for meat and eggs.
A celebration of the chicken in its every aspect, Chickens is sure to delight the chicken fancier, the backyard chicken keeper, and everyone concerned about where our food comes from and how we can treat animals more compassionately.