Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler. 2014, Atria Books. $26.00 325 pages.

You are the ruler of the roost.

Your nest is feathered just the way you want it, you’ve got a little nest egg, nobody’s henpecking you, you’re the cock of the walk at home, and now that you’re an empty-nester, you do what you want. Life is good.

And if anybody calls you a big chicken, you might want to thank them. See why in Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler.

Take every dog, cat, pig and cow on Earth today, add in all the rats and what would you have?  A big mess, that’s for sure, but that assemblage would still pale in comparison to the worlds’ birds – and that includes some 20 billion chickens.

“The chicken,” says Lawler, “is universal.” 

So how did that happen?  How did an ancient, wily jungle fowl become common in barnyard, breakfast, and boasting? 

The short answer is that scientists don’t exactly know. They’re not even sure which came first: the bird to us or us to the bird. They do know that the chicken crossed the world because “we took it with us” a long time ago but, though it can trace its ancestry back to the dinosaurs, the remains of ancient chicken dinners are rare.

Chickens can come in many shapes, sizes, and colors: you can get a palm-sized pet pullet or a gigantic monster-chicken to ruffle the neighbors’ feathers. Gallus gallus domesticus is on all continents (except Antarctica, where they’re banned) and in all countries (except Vatican City, where there’s no place to keep them). Wherever they’ve gone, they’ve adapted quite well – so much so that scientists found chickens near Chernobyl that are able to shake off radioactive toxicity.

We, of course, eat chicken before it’s born and after it’s dead. We use it in medical treatments, fertilizer, crafts, and religion. We made the chicken into an epithet, a riddle, a mania in both London and America, and livestock that once ensured egg money for slave and housewife alike.

And its future?  Well, let’s just say it could be out of this world.

It may seem hard to believe but author Andrew Lawler says that there are people today who’ve never seen a chicken outside grocery store or restaurant. This book may make them want to change all that.

Indeed, Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? is a whole flock of fun. Lawler mixes science and history with a good amount of barnyard peeks to show that the lowly fowl is not so foul; in fact, researchers have proven that chickens are no dumb clucks. Lawler also takes us on a trip to see where the bird has gone, then he investigates where it’s going by visiting large corporate processors. That makes for a well-rounded, informative and highly enjoyable book.

Book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer lives in Wisconsin. @bookwormsez

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