War and Peace with the Beasts

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A History of Our Relationship with Animals

Brian Griffith

ISBN: 978-1-77343-179-6

“The animals that one culture likes are often hated in the next, and it seems that the animals themselves know it well. Basically, one culture’s animal partner is often another culture’s nightmare from hell. “Naturally, I wonder how relations between people and animals got to be so different around the world. How did it happen that some cultures treat bats, snakes, wolves, or ravens as embodiments of evil, while other people treat the same animals with affection or even reverence?”


Our wars with the animals go way back. Beyond the light cast by our prehistoric campfires, the eyes glowing in the night seemed to represent a great hostile force. As we began to cultivate crops and husband a few favoured animals, we generally regarded other creatures as threats to our chosen few. Using the logic of war, we sought to maximize the populations of certain creatures, and the destruction of others. In the past, that war effort was our great crusade for the advancement of civilization as we knew it. The war had a frontier, a front line, and an ongoing battle on the home front. Expanding outward from our various cradles of civilization, we progressively “tamed” the forests and grasslands, converting them to monocrop plantations or pastures. Then we had to defend our monocrops from encroaching weeds, insects, and wild animals.

In this immediately engaging, story- and fact-filled page-turner of a book, Brian Griffith looks at the range of ways we relate to animals and the stories we tell about them. He asks how we choose whether buddyhood, fearful respect, businesslike predation, or genocidal war is the most appropriate response to each species we meet. He watches how our treatment of “inferior beings” affects our treatment of “inferior people,” and traces some of the chain reactions we unleash when we try to weed out species we don’t like. “Without much hope of making animals fit my personal preferences,” he writes, “I wonder how good our relations can get.”

Brian Griffith, Author

Brian Griffith was born in Edmonton, Alberta, grew up in Texas, and returned to Canada as an adult. He took a BA in history at the University of Alberta, spent several years as a community development volunteer in India and Kenya, and has worked in Toronto as an editor and independent historian ever since. His previous books are The Gardens of Their Dreams: Desertification and Culture in World History; Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story; and A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese History.

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Media Reviews

Tod Davies

Editorial Director, Exterminating Angel Press and EAP: The Magazine

“Brian Griffith is a fantastic storyteller who weaves together tales from every corner of the planet. This investigation of our wars against animals exposes our arbitrary bigotry, our self-destructive violence against the web of life, and our vast potential for finding mutual benefit with other species. Cultural history and philosophy of the highest order.”

Tom Atlee

Research Director for the Wise Democracy Project; Founder and Director of The Co-Intelligence Institute

“Griffith invites us into the ebb, flow, and evolution of our complex and ambivalent relationships with animals of all kinds – from wolves, dogs, snakes and cows to monarch butterflies, spiders and microbes – from pets to pests. This book is an accessible, fascinating and compelling revelation, urgently needed to regenerate a world worth living in together.”