Copyright Date: August 2016
The amazon.com product description:
A book that I raced through in about three days. Every time I picked up The Perfect Horse, I found it a real struggle to put down again.NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II
In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.
With only hours to spare, one of the U.S. Army’s last great cavalrymen, Colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision—with General George Patton’s blessing—to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed’s small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.
Pulling together this multistranded story, Elizabeth Letts introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic medalist who is forced to flee the bomb-ravaged Austrian capital with his entire stable in tow; Gustav Rau, Hitler’s imperious chief of horse breeding, a proponent of eugenics who dreams of genetically engineering the perfect warhorse for Germany; and Tom Stewart, a senator’s son who makes a daring moonlight ride on a white stallion to secure the farm’s surrender.
A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts’s exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.
Praise for The Perfect Horse
“Winningly readable . . . Letts captures both the personalities and the stakes of this daring mission with such a sharp ear for drama that the whole second half of the book reads like a WWII thriller dreamed up by Alan Furst or Len Deighton. . . . The right director could make a Hollywood classic out of this fairy tale.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.”—Kirkus Reviews“The Perfect Horse raises the narrative bar. Applying her skills as a researcher, storyteller and horsewoman, Letts provides context that makes this account spellbinding.”—Culturess
“The Perfect Horse is an enthralling and moving story that I could not put down. This is a riveting and unique perspective on World War II.”—Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War
“Passionately told and dazzling in scope, The Perfect Horse charges headlong into an unforgettable tale of World War II, when good men were given a final mission—to save beloved horses—at an hour when no one wanted to die. In Elizabeth Letts, the saga of World War II’s white stallions has found its perfect guardian.”—Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call
“Elizabeth Letts’s beautiful prose, woven together with meticulous research, takes you for a ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.”—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless
I was vaguely familiar with parts of the story thanks to the Disney movie, The Miracle of the White Stallions, but reading The Perfect Horse showed me that there was so much more. Yes there were the Lippizans - both the stallions and the mares, but also in danger were gorgeous Polish Arabians, Thoroughbreds and many other fine horses who had been looted from around German-controlled Europe. That was the part of the story I'd never heard about prior to reading Elizabeth Lett's book.
A lot of people say that animal stories are so often heartbreaking. Not this one. For the most part, the worst that happens to the majority of the figures in this book, both human and animal, is disappointment and some promises that never truly bear out.
Although this is a book about World War Two, as it focuses on a smaller part of the events - that surrounding the horses, it is not as dark as some. The book does touch on the greater events, however, at the same time, it also leaves them in the background for the most part.
The Perfect Horse is lavishly illustrated throughout - photos of the main figures, events and many of the horses so central to the story. The only potential complaint is that all the photos are black and white only. At the same time, it's very likely that the original images were mostly in black and white anyway - given the time period. It might have been a nice touch to include color photos of some of the central equine figures like Witez.
I have to recommend this book most highly. A gripping read which left me wanting to know more - perhaps to hunt down translations of Alois Podhajsky's books - I know I've seen his book on horsemanship (in fact, I have a copy sitting on my shelf), but didn't know he'd also written another book too.