Monday, October 2, 2017

The Perfect Horse - Elizabeth Letts

Summary: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II. 

As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred horses. With the support of U.S. general George S. Patton, a passionate equestrian, the Americans planned an audacious mission to kidnap these beautiful animals and smuggle them into safe territory—assisted by a daring Austrian colonel who was both a former Olympian and a trainer of the famous Lipizzaner stallions. Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review: Art and architecture had the Monuments Men looking out for their safety during World War II, and beyond. But what of the living works of art? Who was watching out for them?

Hitler had plans for nearly every aspect of life in his grand scheme. Not only did he plan on creating a world-wide empire, he and his cohorts dreamed of resurrecting extinct beasts that were “purely Germanic” through reverse breeding. Unfortunately, this spelled near disaster for distinctly European horse breeds all over the continent as Nazis seized the stock from their homes. Unlike their human counterparts, however, no expense was spared in these animals’ wellbeing. Pampered, sheltered, and buried deep inside Nazi territory, those charged with caring for these animals could do nothing but hope for their safety as the tides turned and their previously sheltered stables were found to be in the direct path of the Red Army.

Elizabeth Letts has done a masterful job exploring the mystique of and the urgency in rescuing Vienna’s equine pride, the Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School. Detailing the stress of caring for the horses in time of famine, fighting for their mental wellness against a commander who didn’t understand the need, and laying bare the daring plots of Americans and Germans working together to rescue the breed, this book enraptured me. I’ve heard of the breed, heard of their beauty and unsurpassed ability, but their history was never something I’d studied. 

I absolutely loved the history of not only the breed but of the U.S. Calvary. It took me by surprise to switch from the perspective of Alois Podhajsky (director of the Spanish School of Riding) to the history of the Calvary, but it didn’t take long to see how the two were connected. 

There were so many acts of heroism and daring escapades during the Second World War that went unnoticed or have been forgotten by history. So many men risked their lives for causes larger than themselves. Reading about the risks that American soldiers took (with the knowledge but without official backing from the military) to rescue these horses from certain capture and death was thrilling. For a history buff, books like this just make reading even more fun. Especially when they’re as well written and as well researched as this one.

Rating: Four and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Mostly clean — one death is difficult to read about.

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