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Book Review: Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering by Mark Hawthorne

Review by Katie Gillespie of Serenity in the Storm

Now and then I read a book that I know I will remember for my lifetime and keep coming back to as a source of information and inspiration. Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering (Changemakers Books, 2013), by Mark Hawthorne, is this kind of book.

Bleating Hearts

The book is encyclopedic in its coverage of humans’ use of animals and, chapter-by-chapter, covers the ways in which animals are used for food, fashion, experimentation, hunting, sports, entertainment, sacrifice, art, work and sex. Hawthorne has brought together expert researchers and long-time animal advocates from every corner of the world, spanning cultures and continents, in this meticulously researched work. For anyone concerned with extending compassion to animals, this book is an extraordinary resource for becoming educated and conversant about countless animal advocacy issues. There is not another book that I can think of that so thoroughly documents these hidden worlds in a single volume.

I read the bulk of Bleating Hearts on a plane travelling back and forth between Seattle and Chicago. When I stepped off the plane in Seattle at the end of my trip, I felt like I was seeing the world differently. I was haunted by all of the hidden ways animals were suffering every moment of every day around the world. I was haunted, more so than ever before, by the routine, normalized use of animals in every facet of human life. Of course, the food available for purchase on the plane was largely derived from animals’ bodies and reproductive outputs – the cheese plate, the beef jerky, the deli sandwiches, and so on. The airplane seats were likely made from the skins of animals. The wool, leather, and silk clothing of my fellow passengers were the remnants of animals who had suffered.

These were readily visible traces of animal suffering with which I was already familiar. But as I stepped off the plane in Seattle, I wondered how many live ‘exotic’ animals were languishing, crammed into luggage in cargo holds as they were illegally smuggled around the world. I wondered how many orcas, seals and other marine species were being hunted and killed for food, fashion or sport or trapped for zoos and aquaria off the West Coast at that moment. I wondered how many foxes, mink, and rabbits were caught in fur trappers’ traps in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, or how many more were pacing frantically in cages on fur farms across the United States. These thoughts and hundreds more have raced through my mind since reading this book.

Bleating Hearts is not an emotionally easy read. But reading this book is a deeply empowering experience. As a long-time advocate for animals, Hawthorne understands firsthand the difficulty of facing these truths and the book is structured in such a way as to help you along on this journey of education, empowerment and action. The chapters are scattered with hopeful and inspiring quotes and anecdotes from animal advocates about the power of compassion and hope for a kinder future. He ends each chapter with a section called “What You Can Do” with current resources for taking action to make the world a kinder place for animals.

Hawthorne includes a quote from author, activist and humanitarian, John Robbins, which resonated with me as I read the book. It illustrates beautifully the necessity of seeing the (at times difficult and painful) truth with clear eyes and, rather than getting buried by it, responding by living our lives with great hope, dedication, and kindness:

“I look out into the world and I see a deep night of unthinkable cruelty and blindness. Undaunted, however, I look into the human heart and find something of love there, something that cares and shines out into the dark universe like a bright beacon. And in the shining of that light within, I feel the dreams and prayers of all beings. In the shining of that beacon I feel all of our hopes for a better future. In the shining of the human heartlight there is the strength to do what must be done.” ~John Robbins in Bleating Hearts

And so, dear Kind Life readers, I leave you with these powerful words and the encouragement to read this book and take from it the knowledge, vision and strength to dedicate your lives to the unflinching pursuit of kindness, action and change.

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  • Jennifer Russell

    I just watched the documentary, “Earthlings”, and it was very hard to watch. It is sad that people don’t want to hear the truth about the food and what they are eating! Keep on fighting the good fight and having a voice for the animals of the world!

  • Carly

    This book sounds amazing…but like so many other things I dont know if I could bring myself around to read it. I would like to say that I am not ignorant to what goes on, but to be honest I am so emotional I found it difficult watching a report on current affairs about chickens, let alone sit through the whole earthlings documentary. How can I help without pushing myself to face these horrible things entirely…or do I just have to harden up and make myself?

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  • Jennifer Gallant

    Thank you for the info, I will get this book. It reminds me of Jo-Anne McArthur’s book We Animals. The amount of animal abuse on this planet is so disgusting. I can’t understand how so many turn their heads and close their eyes and ears. This video shows some poor helpless pigs on the way to Quality Meat Packers. It’s a slaughterhouse in Toronto Ontario that kills 7,000 pigs a day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXzZWI-_8C8