Off the Shelf: Book reviews by the Editors of Research/Penn State

book cover “do fish feel pain?”

On the Hook

Do Fish Feel Pain? (Oxford University Press)

Do fish feel pain? It's a barbed and difficult question, but for Victoria Braithwaite, a fish biologist at Penn State, the science may be the easy part. Braithwaite was part of a team at Edinburgh University in Scotland that attracted worldwide media attention in 2003 after publishing results of a study that answered in the affirmative. Here she describes a decade-long program of research into fish cognition and behavior, and lays out the evidence behind her conclusion.

Yes, fish feel pain, she argues, but where exactly does that leave us? How should this new knowledge affect our behavior? "Accepting that fish experience pain and suffering does force us to think differently," Braithwaite writes, "and it will in due course force us to act differently in many spheres," from recreational angling to commercial fishing to biomedical research. "But what that action should be is for the most part still unclear."

—David Pacchioli

book cover for “elizabeth cady stanton”

American Woman

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

"Brilliant, self-righteous, charismatic, self-indulgent, mischievous, intimidating and charming, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the founding philosopher of the American movement for women's rights," writes Lori Ginzberg in her new biography of the 19th-century figure social activist, feminist and abolitionist. Yet Stanton is far less well-known than friend and colleague Susan B. Anthony and other feminist leaders.

Ginzberg, professor of history and women's studies at Penn State, recognizes how much Stanton expanded the promise of American individualism to women, but, like other scholars, takes issue with some of her subjectís methods, arguing that a racist and elitist streak in Stanton's thinking helped shape an American feminism that implicitly considers white, middle-class women the model of womanhood.

Still, in addition to the right to vote and liberalization of divorce laws, Stanton fought for co-education, dress reform, and individualism for women, Ginzberg writes, at a time when these rights were considered radical, and deeply frightening to many Americans.

—Rebekka Coakley

book cover for “jesus wars”

Development of Doctrine

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (HarperOne Press)

For two thousand years the ideology of Christianity has included the belief that Jesus of Nazareth possessed a nature at once completely human and completely divine. Yet there was a time when this doctrine was on extremely shaky ground, according to noted historian of religion Philip Jenkins.

In his new book, Jenkins, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Penn State, describes how fifth-century religious and state leaders feuded in councils and on bloody battlefields over the Church's position on Christ's nature. Focusing on the Councils of Ephesus in A.D. 431 and Chalcedon in A.D. 451, he offers a detailed examination of the turbulent intersection of religion, politics and violence.

Jesus Wars—written in an accessible, engaging style—offers not only insight into the evolution of Christianity, but a well-documented analysis of how any religion forms and re-forms itself over time, in response to changing social and political pressures.

—Laura Stocker Waldhier

Last Updated September 07, 2010