Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Review: Pit Bull by Bronwen Dickey

Book review: Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, by Bronwen Dickey

I've read hundreds of blog posts and articles about pit bulls, and written plenty myself. Weirdly, the feeling* that built in me after each chapter was… relief. I never have to write another blog post about pit bulls. Anytime I feel the urge to correct some ignorance, I'll point them to this book, and if they haven't both read it and formulated a response, they don't get to have their opinion on the subject taken seriously.

I add this to my short list of books that should be required reading for animal shelter employees. But unlike the other books on my mental list (*cough cough* Winograd's Redemption), I can recommend Pit Bull with zero reservations about the content.

It would be easy to compare this book to some other ones, such as The Pit Bull Placebo, but unlike all the others, it does not take a stand (except perhaps in the very last sentence) and then work to convince you of anything; it exhibits a type of journalism that seems to be dying out in the mainstream media. It’s not just that Dickey keeps “an open mind”, it’s that the writing lacks any hyperbole or unexamined assertions. “Nanny dogs, you say? Well, let’s just look into that…”

Dickey is also the first writer I’ve come across who truly digs deeply into the classism and racism behind the hate of pit bulls. While I’ve admired writers like Shirley Thistlewaite and Bent Toellner, and many other “pit bull advocates” like them for calling it out, Dickey finally lays it bare as never before. It's the core theme of the book. And with so many citations that only those most deeply invested in hating pit bulls could ignore it.

It would be a disservice to call this book “balanced”, because, as she points out, “balanced journalism” is too often used as an excuse for false dichotomies while also an excuse for journalists to give too much weight to fringe voices for the sake of excitement/ratings.

What it is is honest, thoughtful, and well-researched (I’ve seen textbooks with shorter indexes than this biography). It well deserves it’s spot in the NYT bestsellers list.


*Some chapters also had me sobbing like a baby - warning: if you can’t handle discussion about dead or suffering people or animals, don’t read.