Laurie Winn Carlson

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Cattle: An Informal
Social History

Carlson’s intriguing book examines in fascinating detail the relationship between people and domesticated cattle through the centuries. She writes about the impact of science, technology, and economics on cattle, and how they in turn have influenced human history. Drawing on a wide range of sources, she shows how cattle have been worshipped in some cultures and become a symbol of pastoral freedom in others; what links them to women and the family; how the beef and dairy industries developed in Europe and the New World; how the cattle cultures helped settle North America; how meat became industrialized and margarine appeared as the first plastic food; and how science today continues to transform the lives of cattle and their connection to human beings.

“A far from humdrum book about cows...Her book will open even jaundiced eyes.”
--Larry McMurtry

“A reader-friendly sociological analysis...This book is the first of its kind and well deserves to be widely read.”
--Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.

“An entertaining and informative blend of natural and social history.”

“As American writer Laurie Winn Carlson drove along country roads to a rural history class at Washington State University, she became fascinated by cows. The university was 75 miles away, and there was nothing much else to look at. She began to watch eagerly for a glimpse of the new calves with their mothers, or the 'boys’ club' of bulls. She even looked forward to spotting them lying in the shade, chewing the cud. Smitten by the beasts, she set out to write a book in celebration of them.

Ever since the first artists painted cows on their cave ceilings, people have valued these great walking larders, Carlson explains. A source of milk, meat, horn, bone and hide, every bit of these animals was useful, while their strength enabled the land to be ploughed. No wonder cattle gods abound. In ancient Egypt, for instance, 'Hathor was the great mother, the goddess cow, whose body was the heavens and whose udder spewed out the Milky Way.' Even our alphabet puts cows first: 'A' is an ox head turned upside down.

Our penchant for putting images of cows on everything from aprons to refrigerator magnets may seem silly or contrived, but the practice echoes an enduring sense of bovine sacredness, Carlson argues. 'By tacking up a cow calendar, or filling a cut cow-shaped cookie jar, women are unknowingly making a connection to their ancestral past,' she opines. Kitchen designers know that anything with a Holstein on it will appeal to female shoppers, but why should this be so? Carlson argues that since the beginning of agriculture, women have been attracted to cows, to 'dairy animals that signify the female, the domestic, the mother of all.'”
--New Scientist

Selected Works

Thomas Edison for Kids
A biography with activities and experiments for young readers. Chicago Review Press, 2006.

On Sidesaddles to Heaven: The Women of the Rocky Mountain Mission
The lives of the first six white women--missionaries--to cross the Rocky Mountains in the 1830s.

Seduced by the West:
Jefferson’s America and the Lure of the Land Beyond the Mississippi

A provocative look at the nation and personalities surrounding the Lewis and Clark era.


A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials
“innovative... impressive... persuasive”

--Publishers Weekly

Cattle: An Informal Social History
The curious and wonderful story of the animal that changed human history.

University of Missouri Press, June 2005.

Created by The Authors Guild

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