What It Means to Be Human: Historical Reflections from the 1800s to the Present by Joanna Bourke | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
What It Means to be Human: Historical Reflections from the 1800s to the Present

What It Means to be Human: Historical Reflections from the 1800s to the Present

by Joanna Bourke
     
 

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“Avoiding the impenetrable prose often found in academic books, this deeply scholarly work is lively and challenging in equal measure, and rewarding throughout.” —Boston Globe

In this fascinating account, Joanna Bourke addresses the profound question of what it means to be “human” rather than “animal.” How are

Overview

“Avoiding the impenetrable prose often found in academic books, this deeply scholarly work is lively and challenging in equal measure, and rewarding throughout.” —Boston Globe

In this fascinating account, Joanna Bourke addresses the profound question of what it means to be “human” rather than “animal.” How are people excluded from political personhood? How does one become entitled to rights? The distinction between the two concepts is a blurred line, permanently under construction. If the Earnest Englishwoman had been capable of looking 100 years into the future, she might have wondered about the human status of chimeras, or the ethics of stem cell research. Political disclosures and scientific advances have been relocating the human-animal border at an alarming speed. In this meticulously researched, illuminating book, Bourke explores the legacy of more than two centuries, and looks forward into what the future might hold for humans, women, and animals.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bourke (Rape: Sex, Violence, History), professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, analyzes formulations of the supposed human/animal divide over two centuries. Her novel employment of a 'Mobius Strip' analogy reveals invalid distinctions between humans and animals often used as justification for subjugating those deemed less than human. With this approach, she demonstrates that the concept of life itself is difficult to pin down, perhaps best expressed negatively the way Dionysius the Areopagite discussed the attributes of God. Bourke then debunks the idea that language and feeling are characteristics unique to humans with examples from around the animal kingdom. Her point is that making such distinctions has been a step on the slippery slope of denying human-ness to women, slaves, or specific racial and ethnic groups, all of whom have been relegated to the non-human side of this divide by bigots. Bourke passionately argues against these specious justifications for the cruelty, torture, and other horrors of which we are capable. Agent: The Wiley Agency.
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Kirkus Reviews
A scholarly look at more than two centuries of varying interpretations of what it means to be human. British historian Bourke (History/Birkbeck, Univ. of London; Rape: Sex, Violence, History, 2007, etc.) focuses on Anglo-Americans and Haitians, the former for their perceptions of cultural and ethnic outsiders, and the latter as an example of a subjugated people who revolted against their white colonial overseers and established a black republic. In examining the various distinctions made between human and nonhuman creatures, the author turns to the image of a Mobius strip, a one-sided surface with no beginning or end, for she finds the boundaries between human and nonhuman just as indistinguishable. All criteria for dividing human from nonhuman—e.g., language, intellectual ability, use of tools, possession of a soul or belief in God—are seen to be inadequate, but humanity's continuing and futile efforts to make such a demarcation is "the greatest driving force of history and also the inspiration for systematic violence." Bourke ranges widely, looking at the denial of full humanity to women, children and nonwhites, at the arguments for and against the rights of animals and at the problems posed by the radical biotechnological techniques that have enabled the merging of human and animal cells. Her writing is dense and demands close reading, but the black-and-white drawings and photographs are often showstoppers, even stomach-turners. Among them are illustrations comparing the face of an Irishman to that of a dog, and of a Negro slave being boiled alive, and photographs likening the slaughter of pigs to the Holocaust. Historians and philosophers may be engaged, but this is much too weighty for casual readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619021679
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
07/23/2013
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
1,150,532
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Joanna Bourke is a Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and an active contributor to radio, journalism, and television. She is author of several books, including Rape: Sex, Violence, History and Fear: A Cultural History, which was shortlisted for Mind Book of the Year in 2006. She lives in London.

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