Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Age of the Horse

The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History by [Forrest, Susanna]

The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History
Atlantic Books
Release Date: October 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis:  Man has always been fascinated by Equus caballus, recasting horse power into many forms: a hunk of meat, an industrial and agricultural machine, a luxury good, a cherished dancer, a comrade in arms and a symbol of a mythical past. From the wild tarpans sought by the Nazis to jade-laden treasure steeds in Ancient China, broken-down nags recycled into sausages and furniture stuffing, stallions that face fighting bulls and brewery horses that charmed the founder of the Sikh Empire, The Age of the Horse knits the history of the horse into that of humans, through revolution, war, social change and uneasy peace. It also uncovers new roles for the horse in the twenty-first century as a tool in the fight against climate change and as a therapist for soldiers damaged in unwinnable conflicts. 

In this captivating book, Susanna Forrest takes a journey through time and around the world, from the Mongolian steppes to a mirrored manege at Versailles, an elegant polo club in Beijing and a farm, a fort and an auction house in America, exploring the horse's crucial role and revealing how our culture and economy were generated, nourished and shaped by horse power and its gifts and limits.


The Age of the Horse is not a history of the horse.  It is, according to the introduction "a wander down six . . . ways in which we have used the horse, and the routes that ideas, people and horses took across an ever-changing territory."  The six pathways Susanna Forrest takes us down include "Evolution", "Domestication", "Wildness", "Culture", "Power", "Meat", "Wealth", and "War".  Within these six sections Forrest explore the entire range of equine-human interactions from warhorses to status symbols, cart horses to polo horses, from Mongolia to England, ancient past to present day.  

From the luxury of Versailles and the life of a dancer to the harsh world of bull fighting and meat factories, Forrest doesn't shy away from exploring the negative as well as the positive in our treatment of horses over the centuries.  She does an excellent job of balancing and capturing humankind's love of horses with the often cruel realities of human-horse partnership.  Combined with her thorough research behind her subject, it is possible to learn some interesting facts and view horses and humans through interesting historical lenses.  

My problem, and great disappointment, with The Age of the Horse was Forrest's writing style.  A meandering, almost stream of conscious style, Forrest describes everything in the closest of details and uses so many similes and metaphors in her writing that it is oftentimes unreadable.  I found it frustratingly easy to lose the thread of the narrative, or the point Forrest was trying to explore/make, because of the many tangents or 'paths' we wandered down along the way.  The heavy overuse of similes and metaphors bogged down the narrative.  By the end of the book, while I might have learned a few things along the way, I couldn't tell you what they were.  I was more relieved to be finished with the book than reflecting on the human-horse culture I had hoped to learn about.

An excellent concept, poorly executed, makes The Age of the Horse a book probably only the most dedicated of horse enthusiasts will enjoy plodding through.  For the rest of us, I recommend passing on this title.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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