45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.