45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
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There is no doubt that Tristram Stuart has conducted a great deal of research in order to write The Bloodless Revolution. He has a astute eye for minute details unique personalities. Doctors, cranks, religious fanatics, scientists, and others, some famous and some obscure, are rendered with thorough and loving detail. If nothing else, the sheer scope of Stuart's work is illustrative of how broad and diverse a movement vegetarianism is.
Yet sometimes I feel that Stuart was in some ways blinded by his own hypotheses and unwilling to look at alternative views. Stuart believes that European vegetarianism is rooted in Indian culture. This is not an indefensible view, but his case for it would have been stronger if he had answered some potential objections to such assertions, rather than ignoring them. Furthermore, literally all of European history between Pythagoras and English Revolution is simply missing. It is perfectly reasonable for Mr. Stuart to focus on a particular era, but readers with some preestablished famniliarity with vegetarian history -- a group likely to comprise a significant portion of The Bloodless Revolution's readers -- are likely to ask questions. For instance, why does St. Francis of Assisi not appear once in the entire book? Why is Leonardo da Vinci only mentioned in a quote comparing him to the Indians? Should the Cathars be ignored? It is one thing to focus on a specific era of history -- the English Revolution to the Second World War -- but it is another to leap straight from Pythagoras to Francis Bacon while ignoring virtually all of the intervening millenia. In short, if Stuart wants to emphasis the critical role of Indian influence on European vegetarianism, he should have investigated earlier indigenous European vegetarian movements or ideas and, if the evidence showed them not to be influential, shown us such evidence, rather than ignoring the whole question.
Second, Stuart often magnifies a dichotomy between animal welfare activists who called for less brutal treatment of domesticated animals and vegetarians who opposed meat consumption. While it is certainly true that there were and are numerous animal welfare activists who sought the reform, rather than abolition, of meat consumption (and vegetarians indifferent to animal welfare), Stuart seems to imply that these were each others' chief opponents. There is little mention of the arguments of those who opposed both animal welfarists and vegetarians. From my impression, it seems that Stuart himself happens to be an animal welfarist who has no problems with meat consumption so long as the animals involved are treated humanely. There is nothing wrong with this viewpoint, but sometimes I wonder whether Stuart's emphasis on welfarists as opponents, rather than allies, of vegetarians, is an attempt to defend his own position against worries about the persuasiveness of ethical vegetarian arguments, and whether Stuart ignores most views less sympathetic to animals than welfarism or vegetarianism because he personally finds them so unpersuasive that he feels they needn't be covered.
Lastly, while Stuart has a brilliant eye for detail and color, he has little time for facts or demographics. Such information may be hard to come by, but could there have been more information? For example, could there be some way of estimating the fraction of vegetarians in the British population from 1600 to modern times? Could we find out the average meat consumption per capita over time? I did not pick this up expecting a book heavy on statistics or demographics, but I nonetheless found the absence of even minimal attention to such matters disappointing.
Nonetheless, The Bloodless Revolution is a thoroughly researched, well-written, and original work. It provides a valuable resource to anyone interested in the history of vegetarianism in the modern era. I found it quite an enjoyable read, and the detailed portraits of the individuals, from meticulous scientists to enthusiastic religious cranks, were all a pleasure to read. I took great pleasure in reading it over several weeks.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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C.S. Lewis once delightedly insisted that he couldn't be offered "a mug of tea that was too big or a book that was too long." Being less stalwart than he, my heart sank when I saw the size of the wonderfully named Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution. But I was quickly captivated by Stuart's enjoyable style, his astounding erudition, the sheer interest of his subject matter, and the exquisite illustrations, in both color and black-and-white.
Stuart writes intellectual history in the old-fashioned graceful way of a Basil Wiley, Keith Thomas, or Carolyn Merchant. He excels at showing the cultural, economic, moral, and religious influences from Francis Bacon through the nineteenth century romantic period on attitudes towards a meatless diet. I was especially intrigued to discover that some of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century utilitarians and economists regarded vegetarianism as a means of overcoming the Malthusian disparity between population and resources--a very forward-looking strategy indeed. Stuart's epilogue, in which he discusses the early twentieth-century's "post-Rousseauist" back-to-nature movement that inspired folks as diverse as Gandhi and Hitler, is fascinating. I hope that it serves as the seed for Stuart's next book.
All in all, highly recommended for those interested in the history and culture of vegetarianism as well as those interested in modern British intellectual history. For collections of some of the primary sources referred to by Stuart, the reader may wish to consult Ethical Vegetarianism from Pythagoras to Peter Singer and Religious Vegetarianism from Hesiod to the Dalai Lama.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
T. Colin Campbell
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This is one of the most informative and important books that I have ever read. I have worked for a half century in the diet and health research and policy arena and have reluctantly but most assuredly because convinced of the health superiority of a diet comprised of plant-based foods. Along the way I also have become very much aware of the difficulty of communicating this message to the professional and public communities. Although serious interest in this topic is emerging in the last few years, even last few months, I am also aware of a visceral sometimes very hostile reaction against this view from a relatively small but sometimes influential group of people. The gap between the believers and non-believers in this way of eating could hardly be more contentious. Thus I have frequently wondered about the question of whatever happened to rational, civil discourse on a topic such as this, especially at a time when we are getting so much empirical data to support the use of a plant-based diet and so much demand for health care solutions.
This book comes as close as any to providing the explanation that I have sought. Although I am not a professional historian or philosopher, I have long had an avid interest in these disciplines. I strongly believe in that age-old adage that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. However limited my perspective may be, I nonetheless find this book by Tristram Stuart to be an incredible presentation of some events and ideas that really go a long way to help provide an answer to my question.
I am still awed by the depth and sophistication of knowledge that existed among leading scholars and medical people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries concerning the use of a plant-based diet. I am sure that it is possible to quibble about Stuart's selection and interpretation of references, as is true of almost any historical account. Nonetheless, I am impressed with these references, not only because of their number, but also because of Stuart's liberal use of direct quotations--these can be easily confirmed, if necessary. But, more to the point, I found that so many of the views of these early writers, who had limited access to empirical data, to be remarkably well confirmed with the highly technical findings gathered in recent years. With my son, Tom, we write about these findings in our own book, "The China Study. Startling Implications of Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health".
There are many other impressive and largely unknown findings told in this book. I especially enjoyed the views on diet and health of these writers that were at the core of philosophical discussions that were to shape Renaissance thinking, especially on matters that led to political reform.
I highly recommend this book--it is full of enormously impressive content that says so much about what we are now experiencing in this field. Tristram Stuart is a remarkably capable young writer and I very much hope that he will continue writing more such material!
In the meanwhile, we now desperately need some of the courage and creativity of these early writers--a revolution in health could hardly be more needed. Thank you, Tristram Stuart, for sharing your thoughts.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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Readers, take note of a few things -
Though the author comes up eventually in favor of cutting back on meat products for ecological reasons, it is my impression is not generally sympathetic to vegetarians. The book largely focuses on the hacks and crazies that adopted vegetarianism between 1600-1800. Gandhi gets a scarce few pages.
Second, this is A cultural history of vegetarianism, specifically the relationship between western europe and India. His thesis is that India was largely responsible for transplanting many strands of vegetarianism into Europe, specifically England and a few French philosophers. This very well may be true, but a more expansive survey would have made for a more interesting book. I got very bogged down in the first few chapters.
All these negatives included, it is a well researched, reasonably well written book on a narrow topic.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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TBR took me awhile to get through because there is a lot of back and forth with the people and times and themes and places, and I had to take notes the whole time so I wouldn't get lost, but my overall feeling about this book is positive. The book surprised me about how people have been obsessed with their food for more centuries than I would have guessed. There are the raw foodies who think that the food now is too depleted from modern farming and genetic manipulation who apparently are reincarnations of those in the past who felt the food then was weakened by The Fall and they tried everything they could to find the right combinations to suck out the most nutrition. There were the paleos who said meat and milk were pretty much all people needed. We have fangs, don't we? Against them were the herbivores who pointed out that fangs are used to kill prey and a man could no more kill an animal with its fangs than a worm could. So isn't it obvious we were meant to live off the fruit of Mother Earth and be content with Her fruits and vegetables and leave her children of the woods and seas in peace? And amongst them all were the hippies who just wanted to know what all the shouting was about, man. The Free Lovers, the Nakedists, the Adamites who wanted to to throw off the shackles of Western tyranny against the Natural Man and his need to see naked women and have sex with a lot of them and eat fruits and vegetables. It's stuff like this that makes me think, Same s*** different century. There really is nothing new under the sun. The cast of characters in this book is huge and if you are a fan of 17th, 18th and 19th c. biography then you will come across many familiar names. Boswell is there, as are Rousseau, Shelley, and Overton. It's a real who's who of radical thinkers and doers and they all had in common a preoccupation with food in general, vegetarianism in particular (some for, some against) and the treatment of animals. I had no idea the British were so barbaric in their thinking about animals even into the 19th c. and their ridiculous combining of beef eating with nationalism. I doubt America was better (or is better) in this regard, but this book is about W. Europe and not America. All in all, an interesting book. Not a fun one though. I found it too plodding in some parts, and it was a little bit disjointed, hence the notes, but still worth the time and trouble.