No creature has been subject to such extremes of reverence and exploitation as the chicken. Hens have been venerated as cosmic creators and roosters as solar divinities. Many cultures have found the mysteries of birth, healing, death and resurrection encapsulated in the hen’s egg. Yet today, most of us have nothing to do with chickens as living beings, although billions are consumed around the world every year.
In Chicken Annie Potts introduces us to the vivid and astonishing world of Gallus gallus. The book traces the evolution of jungle fowl and the domestication of chickens by humans. It describes the ways in which chickens experience the world, form families and friendships, communicate with each other, play, bond and grieve. Chicken explores cultural practices like egg-rolling, the cockfight, alectromancy, wishbone-pulling and the chicken-swinging ritual of Kapparot; discovers depictions of chickenhood in ancient and modern art, literature and film; and also showcases bizarre supernatural chickens from around the world including the Basilisk, Kikimora and Pollo Maligno. Chicken concludes with a detailed analysis of the place of chickens in the world today, and a tribute to those who educate and advocate on behalf of these birds.
Numerous beautiful illustrations show the many faces (and feathers and combs and tails) of Gallus, from wild roosters in the jungles of Southeast Asia to quirky Naked-Necks and majestic Malays. There are chickens painted by Chagall and Magritte, chickens made of hair-rollers, and chickens shaped like mountains. The reader of Chicken will encounter a multitude of intriguing facts and ideas, including why the largest predator ever to walk the earth is considered the ancestor of the modern chicken, how mother hens communicate with their chicks while they’re still in the egg, why Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece required him to play a chicken, whether it’s safe to take eggs on a sea-voyage, and how ‘chicken therapy’ can rejuvenate us all.
This book will fascinate those already familiar with and devoted to the Gallus species, and it will open up a whole new gallinaceous world for admirers of the intelligent and passionate chicken.
‘In this brilliant book, Potts challenges us to see chickens as creatures who think and feel in complex ways all of their own . . . This series notably mixes historical and cross-cultural research with gorgeous illustrations; Chicken is no exception.’ – TLS
‘This tasty book also chases the chicken through literature, film, painting (Magritte’s hilariously sad chicken staring at an egg in an eggcup) and national symbolism (especially French). Potts notices, too, the emerging trend of “heroic chickens” and even “the avenging chicken”, probably a reaction to increasing popular intolerance of battery farming.’ – The Guardian
‘Annie Potts does a good job of condensing the vast scientific literature on [the chicken’s] biology and behaviour into a stream of fascinating facts . . . As is typical of Reaktion’s brilliant Animal series, the book boasts dozens of lavishly reproduced illustrations. These bring the text to life, most notably in the chapters on chickens in popular culture and art . . . [a] lovely book.’ – BBC Wildlife magazine
‘The well-structured text, with a generally good flow, is enhanced by vivid and high-quality illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the chapter that describes the chicken’s social, emotional and cognitive intelligence, which elicits admiration and respect for this beautiful animal. For those readers interested in a concise yet thorough account of the life of the chicken and its relationship with humans, this book is an excellent choice.’ – Ibis
‘Given these insights into their lives, we must hope that chickens will eventually earn the respect and understanding they deserve and that the vast majority will be treated much more humanely than they are today. In this excellent book, Annie Potts makes an eloquent and impassioned plea for the chicken that should help us to redress the balance.’ – International Vegetarian Union online
‘Through much of this volume, stories of the relationship between chickens and humans throughout history and legend are set beside an often joyous carnival of colourful art . . . With Potts’ book, chickens again rule the roost’ – Newcity Lit
Annie Potts is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.