Top positive review
Comprehensive and exhaustive but not without flaws
Reviewed in the United States on November 9, 2018
Smil's book was exactly what I was looking for - a potted history of how meat became industrialized and the numbers surrounding the phenomena. He breaks down numbers such as feed, productivity, yield, carbon dioxide emissions, and water usage with incredible nuance. I particularly appreciated the way he approached the water usage numbers, highlighting that we can't consider all water going into meat as the same (e.g. water from aquifers versus rainfall used to grow the feedcrops). I also think he explained well the major determinants in engendering industrial animal agriculture (e.g. advances in refrigeration and the Haber process).
As with any Smil book, it can be a bit dry and a slog at times. I think numbers are a good start, but numbers ultimately should be culminating to some sort of wisdom. I didn't always find such in this book. Also, I think he makes numerous fallacies: For example, he contends that malnutrition in India is due to not eating enough meat. Couldn't this also be explained by a general lack of calories? Secondly, he often qualifies meat eating due to evolutionary reasons. Often, his arguments rest on the fact that because humans are evolutionarily optimized to eat meat, we should. This is a fallacy. Modern society routinely dispenses evolutionary goals (e.g. monogamy, having fewer children). We have adopted other values to take its place (such as moral considerations).