Book Review: Mark Twain’s Book of Animals

In Animal Rights, Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction by John Yunker

I recently discovered (and ordered) a book that focuses on Mark Twain and his writings and views about animals. Edited by Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Mark Twain’s Book of Animals, focuses on the many ways Twain not only wrote about animals but advocated on their behalf.

Here’s an article that summarizes the book. And an excerpt:

Fishkin was inspired to undertake the project after realizing how central animals were to Twain’s works and that his views on animals revealed a great deal about how he viewed people.

Fishkin was surprised by what she found during the course of her research. “ I had not realized when I embarked on this project that Twain was the most prominent American of his era to throw his weight behind the animal welfare movement.”

Mark Twain was greatly influenced by the ideas that Charles Darwin laid out in his groundbreaking publication, The Descent of Man (1871), a book that “startled the world,” as Twain put it. She examined copious notes that Twain wrote in the margins of his copy of The Descent of Man (housed with the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library) and analyzed their significance.

In particular, Fishkin found that that Twain was affected by Darwin’s idea that man and animal were in reality, much more similar than people liked to believe. “The topic he was dealing with was emotional and intellectual continuities between humans and non-human animals. Darwin wrote that the lower animals were capable of experiencing the same emotions as people and that they were capable of rudimentary reasoning, as well. ”

I look forward to reading this book.