Book Review by Aarene Storms: Mercy: the incredible story of Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and friend to animals

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mercy: the incredible story of Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and friend to animals
by Nancy Furstinger

It's never a good sign when I start fact-checking a book on page 2, but that's what I did with this book--and not only on page 2, but throughout the volume.

There is much to dislike about this book: The basic narrative of Henry Bergh's life is relatively solid, but too many sentences are based in conjecture, as this one "The Bergh children probably asked their parents for a pet of their own, as many children do" which make my spider-senses fizz.

Sidebars are well-researched, but often very distantly related to the main topic. Photos contemporary to the narrative are included at the back of the book, while the text itself is illustrated with cartoony drawings. The author's bias on the topic of pit bull terriers is clear, but stated as unbiased fact.

The book is designed and supposedly targeted to middle-grade readers, but has an overall lexile of 1140, and contains words like "anthropocentric" which are not defined in context or in a glossary. Many quote sources are cited, but at least one (a quote that didn't make any sense, as horses do not cry, not metaphorically and definitely not literally) wasn't.

And then, there's the math. Page 54 claims that more than 2,500 horses in New York City died of an influenza-like plague in 1872, while most sources state that horse mortality among NYC's population was about 1% of the 11,000 horses in the city.

The ASPCA currently estimates that approximately 2.7 million animals (mostly dogs and cats) are euthanized in the United States each year -- a large number. However, 2.7 million is a vastly different number than the book claims: 4 million dogs euthanized annually, according to page 99. And while the average working lifespan of a NYC cart horse might have been around two years in the 1800's, the majority of working horses were not dropping in the traces before their second birthday as stated on page 2, as horses are generally not started in harness until age 2 or 3.

Not recommended.

The events may not have happened; still, the story is true.  --R. Silvern

Aarene Storms, youth services librarian
Richmond Beach and Lake Forest Park Libraries, KCLS


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