Book Review: Dominion by Matthew Scully (2003)

May 5th, 2008 10:18 am by Kelly Garbato

Since I’m in the middle of writing a rather substantial essay over at Smite Me!, not to mention devouring all my wonderful new books, I haven’t had as much time to post over here as I’d like. So I thought I might dig into the archives – like, way back, as far as my pre-blogging days – and post an older book review that I wrote for Amazon in 2003 (in other words, this book review was actually quite current when I first wrote it!). Dominion is an older book and, as you’ll see from the review, not explicitly pro-animal rights, but it’s still one I’d recommend, as it’s for the most part a powerful animal-friendly piece.

This blog started out as a Yahoo Group, and for a short time we had a nice little book club going. When I say “a short time”, I think this was our only selection. ‘Twas fun while it lasted, though!

(Crossposted to.)

Dominion by Matthew Scully (2003)

Starts with a Bang, Ends with a Whimper


As “Dominion” is the first animal welfare/animal rights book written by a Republican, I was driven to read it out of curiosity. In it, Scully lays out a compelling argument against animal exploitation; yet, he seems to backtrack in his final chapters, diluting his thesis and offering excuses for those who would rather make superficial changes.

Rather than just hurling statistics at the reader (as some animal rights books seem to do), Scully attempts to illustrate several instances of animal exploitation with personal narratives. In order to explain the absurdity of hunting – particularly big game hunting – Scully attends the 1999 convention of the Safari Club International; he details the folly of the world’s wildlife management philosophy from his seat at the 2000 meeting of the International Whaling Commission; and he offers a firsthand look at the horrors of modern factory farms, along with the callousness and disregard of those who are responsible. While Scully does manage to interweave his accounts with facts, figures, and philosophy, the book is far from dry. Instead, “Dominion” reads more like a novel, and a terrifying one at that: much of what Scully asserts will sicken you.

Throughout the first 350 pages of “Dominion”, Scully lays out a cogent argument for animal rights, without ever using the term “animal rights”. Thus, the reader is left wondering whether Scully is an animal rights advocate or an animal welfarist (and yes, there’s a world of difference between the two!). In this manner, he never fully articulates his beliefs. He also dismisses philosophical arguments for animal rights/welfare in favor of religion – at best, a silly idea. While I understand that the book is aimed largely at Christians, it’s still pure folly to cast off all semblance of logic in the name of religion. The animal rights movement is incredibly diverse, and the different types arguments reflect this. Appealing to one’s sense of mercy (hence the book’s subtitle, “The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy”) may convince certain segments of society to repent their animal-exploiting ways, but other people may require different routes of persuasion, logic included. Not to mention, the animal rights (and even welfare, to a lesser extent) movement is commonly accused of being devoid of logic and riddled with sentimentality – Scully’s advice certainly wouldn’t help correct this stereotype.

Despite these flaws, I was still impressed with “Dominion” – until I got to the final chapter. Though Scully seems unequivocal in his condemnation of meat-eating (as it’s cruel, unnecessary, and harmful to the environment), in the end he merely calls for more humane standards. I’m sorry, but killing is in and of itself inhumane – when it comes to killing for food or fun, there’s no such thing as a humane death. For humans, meat’s pure lack of necessity negates humaneness. Though I am myself a vegan, I’m not even quibbling over the merits of vegetarianism vs. veganism here – Scully makes a great case for going veg, and then offers a “get out of jail free” card for those who would rather keep on eating meat – never mind the dairy. There’s no such thing as “human decency” when needlessly killing (not to mention torturing) billions of animals a year because of preferences, convenience or tradition.

Some reviewers have expressed their satisfaction that “Dominion” isn’t just another radical, zealous, foaming-at-the-mouth animal rights book. Well, it isn’t – but that’s because it isn’t an animal rights book at all. For whatever reason, Scully chose the easy way out after setting forth an impassioned argument in favor of animal rights. He set the stage for a call to end all forms of animal exploitation – but in the end, he merely called for greater regulation. It was quite disappointing, since I was at first under the impression that we finally had an ally on the right.

Despite Scully’s moral schizophrenia, I still enjoyed the bulk of the book, which is why I gave it more than the 1 star I would have otherwise. Nonetheless, “Dominion” started with an impressive bang, and ended with a self-serving, compliant little whimper.


This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.



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5 Responses to “Book Review: Dominion by Matthew Scully (2003)”

  1. On Carnism: Why Do We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows ? » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] Scully’s Dominion as “a ‘conservative case’ for animals rights.” (It’s not; in the book’s final chapter, Scully argues in favor of animal welfare, even though he spends […]

  2. George Says:

    I personally found the book a soul searching epic. And would recommend it to anyone whether they be a Christian, Atheist or Agnostic. If more people were prepared to act with what Scully calls a sense of common decency; it will be a better world for both animals, and humans alike. From Scullys book I deduced that while we should always welcome better welfare, but always work for animal liberation.

  3. Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 12: The Wordy Vegan » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] of Eating Animals. I’ve no plans to read the book myself; it strikes me as 2009′s Dominion. In other words, […]

  4. The Lucky Ones by Woodstock FAS Founder Jenny Brown: Review & Giveaway! » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] because its Republican author is an unexpected and welcome ally on the right – Matthew Scully’s Dominion starts out with a bang, but ends with a whimper. Scully spends most of the book meticulously and […]

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