Published by Ballantine Books on August 23, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion comes the riveting 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.
THE PERFECT HORSE is the amazing story of a daring U.S. Army mission to rescue priceless horses taken from all over Europe by the Nazis. For all the reading I’ve done on World War II, I can’t believe I had never heard of the German horse breeding program, the difficulties the captured horses endured when Germany faced defeat, or even the plight of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
The first half of the book sets everything up: introducing the major players such as Alois Podhajsky, Gustav Rau, Colonel Reed, and Witez. The big U.S. rescue doesn’t come in until the second half, which was fine with me, because I was so interested in everything else going on. For example, I never knew Poland had a big Arabian breeding program, which was almost entirely wiped out by the war. I learned a lot in THE PERFECT HORSE, from Poland’s Arabians to the different Lipizzaner lines to the lessening of the U.S. cavalry during WWII.
The book was well-researched and well-written, educational and entertaining. I did feel like the author got a little carried away with recounting the emotions of the horses. Imagining Witez’s thoughts drew me out of the narrative, because it just didn’t fit for me in a non-fiction book. At the end of the book, there’s a nice summary of what happened to many of the people/horses/places mentioned, although I thought there were a few curious exceptions, such as Podhajsky.
I’d recommend THE PERFECT HORSE even if you don’t have a huge interest in horses — by no means is this just a “horse book.” It’s a fascinating story of living treasures who were almost destroyed because of the Nazi obsession with purity. It’s also a fascinating story of how enemies came together to rescue those treasures.
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