Bethany Brookshire at Harvard Science Center


How Humans Create Animal Villains 

in conversation with HARRIET RITVO


March 20, 2023
6:00 PM ET


Harvard Science Center Hall A
1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA


$0.00 (admission only) $31.00 (book included)

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome award-winning freelance science journalist and Science for the People podcast host BETHANY BROOKSHIRE for a discussion of her new book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She will be joined in conversation by HARRIET RITVO—Arthur J. Conner Professor of History Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A Return to In-Person Events

Harvard Book Store is excited to be back to in-person programming. To ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in attendance, the following Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place at all of our Harvard Science Center events until further notice:

  • All attendees are encouraged to wear masks. Performers may be unmasked.
  • All attendees must attest to their current health status (e.g., no current infection, symptoms or recent exposure to others with COVID-19)
  • All attendees must self-attest to the following:
  1. I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19 using a vaccine authorized by the FDA or WHO and have received my booster (if eligible), or
  2. I qualify for exemption based upon age, a medical contraindication, or firmly held religious belief.
  3. I also agree to immediately share with Harvard University Health Services any proof of my vaccination status if I am identified as an exposed person through public health contact tracing efforts.
  4. If not fully vaccinated, I have received a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result in the last 24 hours.

For more information regarding Harvard University's Covid-19 safety protocols, please visit their website here.


There are three ticket options available for this event.

Free General Admission Ticket: Includes admission for one.

Book-Included Ticket: Includes admission for one and one hardcover copy of Pests.

Free RSVP for Harvard University Students/Faculty: Includes admission only for Harvard students and faculty.


About Pests

A squirrel in the garden. A rat in the wall. A pigeon on the street. Humans have spent so much of our history drawing a hard line between human spaces and wild places. When animals pop up where we don’t expect or want them, we respond with fear, rage, or simple annoyance. It’s no longer an animal. It’s a pest.

At the intersection of science, history, and narrative journalism, Pests is not a simple call to look closer at our urban ecosystem. It’s not a natural history of the animals we hate. Instead, this book is about us. It’s about what calling an animal a pest says about people, how we live, and what we want. It’s a story about human nature, and how we categorize the animals in our midst, including bears and coyotes, sparrows and snakes. Pet or pest? In many cases, it’s entirely a question of perspective.

Bethany Brookshire’s deeply researched and entirely entertaining book will show readers what there is to venerate in vermin, and help them appreciate how these animals have clawed their way to success as we did everything we could to ensure their failure. In the process, we will learn how the pests that annoy us tell us far more about humanity than they do about the animals themselves.

Praise for Pests

“Brookshire convincingly argues that many of the problems we blame on pests arise not from the creatures themselves but from our own self-centered ways of looking at the world. A fascinating look at how culture, traditions, and human behavior shape the way people coexist or come into conflict with the animals that share their habitats.” —Christie Aschwanden, author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery

“As human populations expand and the climate changes, these animals are not going away. Brookshire has a magnificent ability to bring the ecological context of our epic conflicts with everything from snakes to elephants down to the entertaining and personal.” —John Shivik, author of The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and Coyotes

“A deeply thoughtful yet entertaining tour of our thorny and morally complicated relationships with the creatures we consider pests. Integrating first-rate storytelling with ecology, natural history, wildlife management, cultural anthropology, and ethics, Pests provides a compelling perspective on a misunderstood aspect of human-animal interactions.” —Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals

Bethany Brookshire
Bethany Brookshire

Bethany Brookshire

Bethany Brookshire is an award-winning freelance science journalist and author of the 2022 book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She writes on human-animal conflict, ecology, environmental science, and neuroscience. She is fascinated by the way humans perceive the environment and their place in it. Brookshire is a podcast host on the podcast Science for the People, and her work has appeared in Science News, Science News for Students, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, The Atlantic and other outlets. She is based in Washington, D.C.

Photo credit: Lancer Photography

Harriet Ritvo
Harriet Ritvo

Harriet Ritvo

Harriet Ritvo is the Arthur J. Conner Professor of History Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research has focused on the history of natural history, the history of human relations with other animals, and environmental history, especially in Britain and the British empire. Her current work engages issues of wildness and domestication. Her books include The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (1987), The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (1997), The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism (2009), and Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History (2010).


There is NO PARKING at the Science Center. For those traveling to the Science Center by car, there is paid public parking in Harvard Square. More info here.

Harvard Science Center Hall A
1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA

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