Dominion The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

Matthew Scully

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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Atlantic Monthly Editor's Choice Award

Early in the Book of Genesis, God grants mankind power over animals. But with this privilege comes the grave responsibility to respect life, to treat animals with both dignity and compassion. But somewhere along the way, as this shocking and well-researched study reveals, something has gone wrong.

Dominion profiles the annual convention of Safari Club International, an organization whose wealthier members will pay up to $20,000 to hunt an elephant, a lion, or another animal, either abroad or in American "safari ranches," where the animals are fenced in pens. The book also covers the annual International Whaling Commission conference, where the focus is on developing more lethal, but not more merciful, methods of harvesting "living marine resources." And readers are shown a hellish American "factory farm," where animals are treated as mere product and raised in conditions of mass confinement: bred for passivity and bulk, inseminated and fed with machines, kept in tightly confined stalls for the entirety of their lives, and slaughtered in a way that maximizes profits and minimizes decency. Throughout Dominion, author Scully challenges and expertly counters the hypocritical arguments that attempt to excuse animal abuse: from those who argue that the Bible's message permits mankind to use animals as it pleases; to hunters who claim that their sport helps control animal populations; and to defenders of popular and "scientifically proven" notions that animals cannot feel pain, do not experience emotions, and are not conscious of their own lives.

This book is eye-opening—a truly painful, infuriating, insightful, and rewarding work. Dominion is a plea for human benevolence and mercy, a scathing attack on those who would dismiss animal activists as mere sentimentalists, and a demand for reform from the government down to the individual.


Praise for Dominion

"[An] important book . . . rich with thought. It is horrible in its subject, a half-reportorial, half-philosophical examination of some of the most repugnant things that human beings do to animals . . . The book is wonderful in its eloquent, mordant clarity . . . Scully's argument is fundamentally a moral one. It is wrong to be cruel to animals, he says, and when our cruelty expands and mutates to the point where we no longer recognize the animals in a factory farm as living creatures capable of feeling pain and fear, or when we insist on an inalienable right to stalk and slaughter intelligent, magnificent creatures like elephants or polar bears for the sheer, bracing thrill of it . . . then we debase ourselves."—Natalie Angier, The New York Times Book Review

"Scully has written what is surely destined to become a classic defense of mercy. A master of language, he leaves a memorable phrase on virtually every page."—Nicols Fox, The Washington Post

"An extraordinary book, deep, witty, incisive . . . Anyone who has anything to do with animals (and that means everyone who eats them) owes it to him or herself to read this extraordinary book. It just might change your life."—Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep, in the New Zealand Listener

"Scully's riveting account . . . shows how unspeakable and systematic animal cruelty is the currency of a soulless industry that has shattered American rural communities, poisoned our soils, air, and water, made family farmers an endangered species, and undermined our democracy. Scully's book gently questions whether we can foster human dignity in a society that treats other sentient beings as production units."—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

"Matthew Scully has set forth a case—in a wry and riveting manner—that will resonate with any reader who values logical reasoning and ethical conduct. I expect Dominion will be the most influential book on animal protection in the last twenty-five years."—Wayne Pacelle, Senior Vice President, Humane Society of the United States

"Marvelous . . . Scully asks the right questions . . . When he is in form, he does this in beautiful and witty prose . . . Scully is at his best when he goes out into the field. With an almost masochistic resolve, he exposes himself to the theory and practice of exploitation as it is found among the exponents of commercial hunting and industrial farming. The arguments he hears [are] about gutsy individualism in the first case and rationalized profit in the second . . . Without condescension but with a fine contempt he introduces us to 'canned hunting': the can't-miss virtual safaris that charge a fortune to fly bored and overweight Americans to Africa and 'big game' destinations on other continents for an air-conditioned trophy trip and the chance to butcher a charismatic animal in conditions of guaranteed safety."—Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly

"The most eloquent recent plea on behalf of animals."—Michael Pollan, The New York Times Magazine

"Dominion is a dazzling literary achievement, blending stylistic grace, clear-eyed reporting, and lapidary argument."—Andrew Ferguson, columnist, Bloomberg News

"Dominion is an unsettling book, one that will challenge the conflicting values most of us hold . . . It shines a bright light on indecent treatment kept out of public view . . . It promises to stir many hearts and minds."—Steve Wilson, The Arizona Republic

"[Dominion] has garnered affection because of its eloquently simple appeal. Scully's argument for the protection of animals is not based on rights, liberation, or legal sophistry, but on the old—some would say old-fashioned—idea of mercy."—f0 The Seattle Times

"A magnificent new book . . . Scully pulls his readers into the moral abyss now characterizing the ways humans treat animals."—J. William Gibson, The Dallas Morning News

"The best book I read in 2002 and one I recommend to everyone is Dominion . . . Scully makes the case—very persuasively—that we have a duty to protect animals, who are totally dependant on us, from the massive abuses that are now routinely and unthinkingly inflicted on them."—Fred Barnes, executive editor, The Weekly Standard

"A challenging and potentially life-changing book . . . it can lead readers to a greater measure of the humility that Matthew Scully rightly says should mark our limited dominion."—Father Richard John Neuhaus, National Review

"Matthew Scully reminds us that we are stewards of God's creatures and that, as stewards, we are called to treat all animals with kindness, empathy, and a merciful spirit . . . In the Book of Proverbs, it is written, 'A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.' We must return, as Dominion contends, to the principles of benevolent custody and faithful husbandry for animals."—Senator Robert C. Byrd

"[A]n eloquent polemic against human abuse of animals, culminating with a devastating description of factory farming."—Peter Singer, The New York Review of Books

"With an almost masochistic resolve, [Scully] exposes himself to the theory and practice of exploitation as it is found among the exponents of commercial hunting and industrial farming . . . In the three arenas—food, sport, and experiment—Scully asks all the right questions . . . He does this in beautiful and witty prose."—Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly

"I was saddened, moved, and unsettled by this book. I no longer consider p0animal rights a fringe movement . . . In the end, Scully does a brilliant job of planting a very disturbing seed: If we can treat animals this cruelly, what are we capable of doing to ourselves?"—The Rocky Mountain News

"In fifty years, we will look back in shame at what Dominion catalogs."—Los Angeles Times

"As Christians, we have a moral duty to respect the animal world as God's handiwork, treating animals with 'the mercy of their Maker,' as Christian writer Matthew Scully argues in his excellent new book, Dominion."—Charles Colson, Christianity Today

"Brilliant and comprehensive . . . I was frankly stunned by the intellectual integrity of Scully's book and his reasonable approach to the subject matter."—Elisa Poteat, UPI

"[Scully] can be disarmingly polite and witty as he bursts the balloons of the self-serving illogic that define society's relationship to animals . . . This book is highly recommended to all."—The Toronto Star

"[A] tour de force with the potential impact of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring."—Crisis magazine

"A revelatory and revolutionary piece of work . . . Scully writes exquisitely . . . [He is] a master of prose . . . The strength of Scully's book is that it serves as an exposé of the brutalizing, neglect, and general mistreatment of animals that is built into the infrastructure of our economy and culture."—Ward Cornett III, Trinity Seminary Review

"A moral inquiry into the human treatment of animals. Like it or not, humans have a measure of dominion over animals, but what are our moral obligations toward them, Scully asks. Do we sit mute before the unspeakable conditions and unadulterated cruelty of factory farming of animals or the staged machismo of big-game hunting? Do we recognize animals as having intelligence and capacity for pain, recognize their moral worth and our duty and kinship to them under natural law, 'which advances a being onward toward its natural fulfillment'? If one is an eater of meat, asks vegetarian Scully, do you ask whether that pork chop had a good life before the blade ran home, and are you willing to support giant operations in which pigs are denied every conceivable natural moment, including sunlight? Scully has done plenty of fieldwork to make it plain that humility and empathy don't guide our dealings with fellow creatures on megafarms or on 'safari.' Decency and mercy are ostensible values governing behavior between humans, and it's ridiculous to Scully to think they wouldn't play a part in our interactions with animals."—Kirkus Reviews

"Increasing media coverage of troubling trends in animal mistreatment, from genetic cloning and experimentation to factory farming, has heightened the moral imperative to examine how humans use and treat animals, according to Scully. He quotes a wide variety of sources—including the Bible, other famous literature, debates in British parliament, and conversations at a hunter's convention—to provide a wide spectrum of views on the uses of animals and whether they possess consciousness and the ability to feel pain. Scully takes note of our arbitrary, often contradictory approach to the treatment of animals, from objections to experimentation on animals and bans on wearing furs to the blithe consumption of burgers and steaks. He traces the history of the animal rights movement and its philosophical underpinnings and argues for a balance between the cruel and cavalier treatment of animals and the more radical notions of the animal rights movement. Scully is sensitive and insightful without being sentimental."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Matthew Scully

  • Matthew Scully is a special assistant and senior speechwriter to President George W. Bush. A former literary editor for National Review, he has been published in various periodicals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his wife, Emmanuelle, in northern Virginia.