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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 army's last great cavalrymen, American 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' 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jean on 04-17-17
An Absorbing history
Letts covers two stories in this book. One is the commonly known story of the rescue of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and their famous Lipizzaner stallions led by Alois Podhajsky. Podhajsky won the bronze medal in Dressage at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Near the end of the war the American Army heard from a German spy about the location of the horses. The Russian Army was closing on the location; the Russian soldiers were starving and the fear was they would slaughter the animals for food. General George Patton, a great horseman, ordered Major Hank Reed of the 2nd Calvary to rescue the horses.
The second section is less known about Hitler and Gustav Rau and the eugenics program to genetically engineer the perfect German War Horse. Germany had stockpiled the world’s largest collection of purebred horses from famous Polish, Russian, German, English, Irish, and Dutch horses to the rare Arabian horses from the Ottoman Turk Empire whose blood lines go back to the 17th Century. Unfortunately, in 1917 the Bolsheviks had purposefully slaughtered many of these rare Arabians as symbols of the pampered rich. Gastov Rau first had the breeding farm at the Janow Stud Farm in Poland then had to move it to Hastau, Czechoslovakia in 1942. In 1944, it was moved to St. Martin, Austria. After being rescued many of the horses came to the United States but unfortunately these famous and rare purebreds were sold off by the Army. Also included were many of the European greatest Thoroughbred racehorses; unfortunately, the American racehorse registry refused to accept their registry papers and these champion horses were sold as pets.
The book is about thirteen hours long. Paul Boehmer does a great job narrating the book. Boehmer is a classical trained actor and award-winning audiobook narrator.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
By NanS on 04-24-17
Good history/horse story
Where does The Perfect Horse rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Gee, I've listened to so many over the years! This book is definitely in my top 20% and since I rarely listen to history books, I'd rate it as in the top 10% among nonfiction books.
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Perfect Horse?
The race in the middle of the night, with Lessing and Stewart one on a black and one white horse was described perfectly.
Which scene was your favorite?
As a horse person, I really enjoyed several of the descriptions of being around horses. There was one description about Hank Reed's familiarity of those things any horse person knows - the rhythm of a horse's gait, the scent of fresh straw and "what the end of a day on horseback felt like, salty with sweat, dirt under his nails, and a mind white-washed on worry".
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
I am always drawn to people who understand that the animals of this world are worth saving.
Any additional comments?
This is an excellent book for horse lovers who are not regular history readers. Instead of just dates and battles, Letts educates her readers about the people and places in this book. Not as good as In the Company of Elephants, but still quite good.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Robert on 02-22-18
Rose tinted glasses
The story seems to be romanticized to the extent that it takes from the facts. It left me trying to guess what was true and what was the authors imagination. Also it doesn’t deviate from what’s horse related and what’s going on in the wider context of ww2. I would have expected to hear a little more about what the individuals were doing outside of their interactions with the horses - the line at the end saying that Mr Xs character has been brought into question by historians shows that there was a lot more in the story than we are being told. Disappointing.
By Lu on 12-04-16
Fascinating but an emotional storm.
I put off listening to The Perfect Horse for a few months as I wasn't sure I could cope with it. (Other horse owners will understand!) This is one of the most engaging books I've ever read/listened to and I've seldom come across such a powerful narrative of the extreme feats of endurance demanded of the Arab breeding stock.
This was emotionally heavy going but well balanced between the horrors of war and the beauty of human compassion towards the horses. Thoroughly well researched, it is an eye opening perspective of life and politics during and after the war from both sides.