Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Review: Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh's America

Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh’s America
By Gary Kaskel
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
Published: Oct. 11, 2013

About the Book:

The first new biography in more than 50 Years. “He never had any pets, but he started the first animal protection society. He never had any children, but started the first children’s protection society. Henry Bergh was responsible for the birth of two great social justice movements in America, and no biography had been written about him in more than fifty years. No doubt, Henry Bergh is the most famous American you’ve never 
heard of,” declares Gary Kaskel, author of Monsters and Miracles-Henry Bergh's America.

Book Links
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My Thoughts:

Monsters and Miracles is a historical biographical fiction novel told from the point of view of an old woman to a television crew. This was her reminiscing about Henry Bergh, the man who started the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), America’s first animal protection society. He also began America’s first child protection society.

The prologue gives the drier version of Henry Bergh’s biographical information with all the pertinent dates and facts one would expect to find in a biography. If it’s the story version of his biography you are interested in, you’ll want to start with Chapter One.

Mrs. Mary Ellen Schutt is the senior citizen that the television crew is interviewing. She claims she owes her life to Henry Bergh.

Henry Bergh’s story is a fascinating one and what he did for the treatment of animals was astounding. But it wasn’t just the improvement of the treatment of animals where the improvement was so beneficial. Because of improved treatment of animals in the slaughterhouses and milking houses, hundreds of thousands of human lives have been saved from keeping fecal matter out of our food products and diseased animals from entering the food system. This was the beginning of the food inspection agency. As I read the book, I found it hard to believe that more people didn’t die from the food that was sold in the meat markets given the condition the animals were kept in.

I also enjoyed discovering why this senior lady was telling the story. What was her connection to Henry Bergh. Her situation was also a fascinating, yet terrible tale. Mr. Kaskel did a remarkable job of bringing this novel to life. Most of the individuals in the novel are real figures (basically with the exception of the television crew). Included in the book are quite a number of photos depicting some of the people and places and news items of the era. This really helps bring the reality of the story home.

I really only have one small criticism to the entire book. The novel is written in present tense for the most part, but occasionally slips into past tense and sometimes even within the same sentence.

Monsters and Miracles: Henry Bergh’s America was a fascinating look at a very important piece of our history. Everyone has heard of the SPCA, but who has ever heard of Henry Bergh? He truly is “the most famous American you’ve never heard of”. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in history. I gave this book 5 stars out of 5.

Thank you to the publisher, Infinity Publishing, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. A positive opinion was not required. All thoughts are my own.

About the Author:

Gary Kaskel was born and raised in Manhattan where he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts as a teenager. He has been writing and making films since he was in grade school. His diverse career includes working as a camera salesman, stand-up comedian, journalist, technology consultant, charity executive, actor, screenwriter, director, cameraman and editor.

Since graduating from the CalArts film school, where he studied screen writing and directing under Alexander Mackendrick ("The Man in the White Suit," "The Ladykillers," "The Sweet Smell of Success"), Gary has worked in film and television as a writer, producer, director and cameraman for news, entertainment and documentary projects.

From 1980 to 1982 he was associate producer for television legend Milton Berle's production company. After a move back to New York City, he became a freelance director/cameraman for broadcasters and advertising agencies.

For more than twenty years, Gary Kaskel has had a strong interest in animal protection and other social justice issues. He was president of United Action for Animals in NYC (2003-2007). His intimate knowledge of the spectrum of animal advocacy led him to make "Animal People - the humane movement in America," a feature documentary in 2006. From 2008 to 2011 he was a producer of the annual Genesis Awards for the Hollywood office of The Humane Society of the United States.

Presently, Gary Kaskel is CEO of Carriage Trade Media, a production company focusing on developing socially-conscious comedy, drama and historical film and television projects. After several years of researching the life of ASPCA-founder Henry Bergh, he wrote an historical novel based on his life entitled "Monsters and Miracles." He is presently working on an autobiography titled, "I Could Have Been a Pawnbroker."

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