Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh’s America

Book: Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh’s America
Author: Gary Kaskel
Publisher: Infinity Publishing, republished in 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0741477453 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0741477459 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0741498045 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0741498049 (Paperback)
Related website: (publisher)
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Adults only
Rating: ** 2 stars (POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Kaskel, Gary. Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh’s America (published in 2013 by Infinity Publishing, 1094 New DeHaven St., Suite 100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428). Based on personal journals, newspaper and magazine accounts, and court transcripts, Monsters and Miracles is the story of a complex and conflicted warrior for animals and children who changed the consciousness of a nation more than a century ago. Henry Bergh (1813-1888) was born in New York City, the son of a wealthy immigrant ship maker. After studying at Columbia College, he worked in his fathers’ shipyard. When the shipyard was sold, Bergh received a share of the inheritance and set forth on a lengthy journey throughout Western Europe with his young bride, Catherine Matilda Taylor. In 1862, Bergh was appointed secretary and acting vice-consul to the American legation in St. Petersburg, Russia, by President Abraham Lincoln. On returning to the United States, Bergh tried to make a living as a writer of plays, novels, and poems, but his work was not well received. As a result of cruelties witnessed in Europe, Bergh resolved to work on behalf of animal welfare and founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April, 1866, leading to the passing of animal protection laws.

Having received a lot of notoriety from his work in animal protection, Bergh was approached in 1874 by a Methodist missionary named Etta Agnell Wheeler, who sought help rescuing a child named Mary Ellen Wilson from her cruel abuser, Mary Connolly. After Mary Ellen’s story was heard and she was subsequently rescued through Bergh’s efforts, other complaints came in to Bergh. In response, Bergh himself, along with his lawyer Elbridge T. Gerry, formed the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1875. This led to the formation of other SPCC organizations in other states and brought about reform of child labor and abuse laws. Following a Prologue covering the early life of Bergh, the book begins with a fictionalize television crew’s interview with Mary Ellen as an elderly lady in 1952. She tells the story of Bergh’s life leading up to his involvement with her. It is stated that Bergh was homeschooled. Unfortunately, there are a number of negatives. Christians certainly oppose animal abuse. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Proverbs 12:10). However, Bergh’s view of animal protection sometimes went a bit overboard, leaning towards P.E.T.A.’s “animals are people too” position. He once said, “Animals as food and animals as experiments are morally equal.” He even objected to the feeding of live animals to a python or boa on display in spite of universal testimony of scientists that this is how such snakes prefer to eat and do eat in the wild.

Some very detailed descriptions occur of Henry’s losing his virginity at age seventeen to a prostitute, the lack of sexual satisfaction between Henry and Matilda on their wedding night and throughout their marriage, and his discussion with a prostitute of sexual relations in doing research for his writing, as well as references to pornography and brothels. Also, one person is identified as a homosexual. I really don’t see why all of this was included, except perhaps the author thought that it was necessary to help explain some of the motivations in Bergh’s later life. In addition to the “d” and “h” words, the “f” and “s” words are sprinkled into various conversations, along with some other profanities and vulgarities. Since this is a “biographical novel,” an author can choose the words that he uses, so Kaskel must have chosen this particular language for a reason. I guess that this doesn’t surprise me since Kaskel is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a typical Hollywood insider. It is said that Bergh was a secular humanist who believed in Darwinian evolution. Monsters and Miracles is an interesting story about a fascinating individual whom the author calls “the most famous American you’ve never heard of,” and it is told in a very readable way. However, it is definitely not for young people, and due to the bad language and rather explicit sexuality I just can’t recommend it very highly.

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