THE BLOG
07/01/2009 02:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Consummate Animal Rights Reference

Book Review: The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights
Ingrid E. Newkirk
St. Martin's Press, New York (2009)

It wasn't but a few months back that Ingrid E. Newkirk gathered more than 50 essays written by friends like Kevin Bacon and His Holiness the Dalai Lama into a book called One Can Make a Difference. The slim volume effectively demonstrated that a single individual can change the lives of many. Now the co-founder of PETA has put forth her own ideas about how the world can be changed for the better. As she writes in the introduction, "There is no currency in wishing things were better but not rolling up one's sleeves and helping to change them."

To be sure, The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights is not likely the best bet for a beach read. It's intensely honest and sometimes graphic, and it never lets you forget that PETA's position is and always has been that animals should not be eaten, worn, tested on, or forced to entertain humans. The book is organized to allow the reader to tackle those topics as standalone chapters.

Each section first sets out to present some basic facts about one aspect of human interaction with nonhumans, such as "How Animals End Up as Dinner." Newkirk explains where steak comes from and how eggs up in the grocery, and she relates to the reader in each case with personal stories of how she came to educate herself and change her mind. She used to eat meat too, after all. Newkirk recalls buying snails from an Italian market with every intention of cooking them in hot oil with garlic and herbs. But on the drive home, she began feel that she was being watched. "I looked over at the seat beside me," she writes, "and there, peering out of the bag into the precipice below or up at giant me, were the snails." Needless to say, Newkirk did not dine on escargot that night or any night thereafter, instead releasing the snails in her backyard garden. She writes, "[I]t is to the animals' detriment that everyone isn't formally introduced to their intended meals before dinner."

After each issue is presented and argued, a "What You Can Do" section lists ideas -- from simple to complex -- about how to effect change. For instance, Newkirk suggests that we can show respect for animals when we speak and write by referring to an individual animal as "he" or "she" rather than "it," and by using "who" in place of "that." When it comes to charities that test on animals (who knew that the Red Cross runs its own animal laboratory?), she of course recommends not sending money to organizations that sponsor animal testing, but she concedes that if one must do so, a check can be earmarked specifically so that funds are "not to be used for animal experiments."

Finally, each chapter ends with a "Frequently Asked Questions" section, which can be very helpful not only for the vegan wannabe with nagging questions but also for the already enlightened soul who isn't quite sure how to respond to a statement such as "Animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn't we?" (Newkirk's answer: "[Some animals] kill out of need, but that is not the case for humans who kill -- usually by proxy -- out of greed, old habit, and laziness or for convenience.")

While much of this is preaching to the choir for readers who've already gone vegan, even they will find great value in the nearly 140-page reference section, featuring everything from lists of cookbooks and animal-friendly retailers to sample letters for those who want to write to newspaper editors or government officials. And for readers who are seriously considering changing their food, clothing, or entertainment habits, this book should serve as inspiration and a validation as well as the consummate reference manual for making the world a more compassionate place for all living beings.