Most helpful positive review
103 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Great and not-so-small
on December 29, 2002
James Herriot was a country veterinarion who lived in Yorkshire before (and after) World War II. His stories are funny, heartwarming, sad, and highly educational. And after reading this, you will either want to be a vet or be very grateful that you aren't one.
The book opens (after a brief chapter taking place several months later) with James arriving in Yorkshire, to be the assistant to the eccentric but kindly Siegfried Farnon (yes, that is his name). He becomes accustomed to Siegfried, Siegfried's mischievous younger brother Tristan (yes, that is his name), and the gruff, kindly farmers who eke out a living in the Yorkshire Dales. Pampered pooches who are spoiled rotten, savage pigs who chase Tristan around the farm, a nightmarishly strict secretary who drives Siegfried up the wall, James's car-with-no-brakes, cows running on three cylinders, a sadistic vet who makes James wear a rubber bodysuit, and an elderly, immensely wealthy widow who adopts a pig. And through this, James falls in love with the beautiful Helen Alderson and worms his way into the trust of the farmers.
James Herriot (real name, James Wight) was truly a one-of-a-kind man. He let readers into his head throughout the book, where the cows kick him across the yard, farmers often treat him as an interloper or a nuisance, and his boss gives contradicting orders from one day to the next. But he never loses his drive or his love of animals. (Okay, he hates some animals, but only as individuals) He even lets the readers see him at his worst, when he's humiliated by some recalcitrant livestock, and one horrible scene where he and his date show up drunk and mud-smeared in front of the girl he adores. (Not to mention when Tristan got him to use very feminine-smelling bath salts) But don't think that all of these stories are funny or romantic -- quite a few are aggravating or outright sad. James didn't soften the blows at all.
The people around James are just as fantastic: Siegfried, his weird but genial boss who can kick Tristan out of the house and forget about it overnight; Tristan, the mischievous anti-scholar who usually manages to keep out of trouble; and Helen, who seems a little too saintly at times (which isn't surprising, since James married her). There are a lot of details about surgery and stuff like that that will gross out the squeamish, but at least you'll learn a lot of medical trivia. (For example, what is a torsion?)
It's sweet, sad, funny, romantic, dramatic. "All Creatures Great And Small" (and its four sequels) is a fantastic read for all ages.