Ethics into Action:

Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement

(Lanham; Boulder; New York; Oxford: Bowman and Littlefield,1998, $22.95) by Peter Singer

Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz

In this extremely well researched and eloquent book, Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, the book that is generally credited with starting the animal rights movement, discusses the life of Henry Spira, the person who perhaps did the most to apply Peter Singer's teachings to the betterment of animals. There are many important lessons in Henry Spira's life that should be an inspiration to animal rights advocates and, indeed, to anyone who wants to overcome injustices. First, one may overcome severe handicaps; Henry succeeded in spite of coming from a family in which his father and a sister committed suicide and his mother suffered from psychiatric problems for many years. Second, one need not have a major organization and vast financial resources to make significant contributions; with little more than an apartment and a telephone, Henry was able to form coalitions that were able to force such groups as The American Museum of Natural History, Revlon, Proctor and Gamble, the Food and Drug Administration, Amnesty International, and McDonald's, to change how they treated animals.

Although Henry's grandparents were both rabbinical scholars, he was not religious in the conventional sense. Yet, more than most people who profess to be observant, Henry's life and campaigns exemplified Judaism's teachings about the pursuit of justice and the emulation of God's attribute of compassion. Although he may not have spent much time learning about the biblical prophets, they would certainly be very pleased by his credo that he practiced so conscientiously: "If you see something that is wrong, you've got to do something about it."

Henry's entire adult life was devoted to turning "ethics into action", whether in his early efforts to obtain better working conditions as a union organizer, his reporting, his work for human rights and social justice, or in his later work helping creatures unable to plead their own causes. Henry's work can serve as a model of how to be an effective activist. Especially valuable are Henry's "Ten Ways to Make a Difference" that are discussed in terms of his life and activities in the final chapter.

I hope that everyone who is concerned about improving the world will read this excellent and much deserved tribute to Henry and emulate the approaches that enabled him to accomplish so much with so little against so many powerful groups. This would result in unprecedented positive changes, and this would be the most fitting tribute to Henry's splendid life.

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