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Dark Horses and Black Beauties: Animals, Women, a Passion Hardcover – August, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049473
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,998,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During her midlife quest to explain the horse-filled frenzy of her childhood, Pierson (The Perfect Vehicle: What Is It About Motorcycles?) interviews the founder of an equine welfare group who expertly classifies the three kinds of women who love horses: "[T]hose who want something out of them, personally or professionally; those who anthropomorphize them; and those who are seeking a higher knowledge about horses and humans and the mysteries of their intersection." The author falls into the last group as she plumbs the depths of both the feminine and the equine, looking closely at how the two intertwine. Although the book freely mixes history, memoir, sociology, psychology and even snippets of poetry, Pierson does follow a clear narrative line. Acknowledging that her love of horses has endured long past childhood, she signs up for riding lessons. As she recalls passages from Black Beauty and describes Breyer model horse competitions from her youth, the author grows into a better horsewoman, remembering riding techniques and recapturing her love for manure's particular smell. As she gets more expert, her meditation on women and horses deepens and ranges more widely, encompassing horse racing, sidesaddle riding, class issues and competition. Pierson's smooth writing style is well suited to her subject, containing bits of breathless enthusiasm one moment and peaceful contemplation the next. Although she doesn't arrive at a definitive answer to why little girls all over the Western world suddenly become horse obsessed, she does provide a host of smaller, personal epiphanies about a woman's need to connect with the natural world, and the empowerment that comes from commanding a larger, more forceful being. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Pierson, whose previous book celebrated motorcycles, was one of those girls who love horses beyond reason, an obsession she explores in a vivifying, mosaiclike inquiry into our ancient and complex relationship with these powerful yet vulnerable beings. The world would be a very different place without the horse, Pierson observes, since they helped us become mobile, farm, build cities, and fight wars, and the number of horses who died in the line of duty is bloodchilling: 52,000 were killed in the Battle of Stalingrad alone, and nearly that many died in the streets of New York in 1916. This sad legacy shadows Pierson's penetrating musings on the beauty and soul of horses; her intriguing and anecdotal exploration of the seemingly biological, perhaps cosmic, connection between women and horses (almost all devoted riders are female); and her frank critiques of today's trendy equine universe. As she considers the enigmatic yet life-enriching nature of interspecies communication, Pierson makes plausible the assertion of many horsewomen that communing with horses is nothing less than a "path to illumination." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Melissa Holbrook Pierson should have known she was destined to become a writer ever since she was a kid hiding in the branches of the maple tree, writing action-filled stories of escape and ignoring her mother's cries to come down out of there. She largely resisted the knowledge until after college, when she realized she was unlikely to become a professor of literature, an avant-garde film director, or an art critic. Her first "book" was a ghost-writing assignment about fashion and packing light for travel, although she had never done such a thing in her life.

When she discovered motorcycling in her mid-twenties, though, she realized she had a calling: writing about human passion. Her first book, in 1997, was The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles. The next, about women and horses, was Dark Horses and Black Beauties. This was followed by The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home, her lament of rapacious overdevelopment.

And now, this coming October, she returns to the territory of her first book with The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing: Long-Distance Motorcycling's Endless Road, an exploration of obsessive riding by way of one of the most extreme practitioners of it, world-record-holder John Ryan. All her books have been published by the esteemed independent publisher W. W. Norton.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Gage on August 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book begins with an exploration of the mysterious attraction that girls have for horses and becomes a diverse and fascinating essay that covers far more. It surprises and delights the reader at every turn. It asks questions and provokes thought; it deserves a wide readership. Melissa Holbrook Pierson is delightful company; she's a tough, opinionated woman who is not afraid to tackle the big subjects of equine (and animal) welfare. Her topic is huge; her heart is huge; the book is a gift. I've read it twice and bought three copies for friends. I urge everyone who cares about horses to read it and spread the word of what a treasure it is.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was not what the publisher's description led me to believe. I thought I was getting an exploration of the unique relationship between women and horses. Instead, I got a 200+ page listing of the many cruelties man has visited on the animals of this world. Pierson's text ranged from 15th century abuses of horses to modern day slaughterhouse atrocities with a glimpse of scientific experimentation's darker moments and a sprinkling of your garden variety backyard animal cruelties thrown in for good measure. A more apt title for this book would be "Random Musings of an Animal Lover on the Inhumanity of Man."
I disliked this book for several reasons. I don't care for the author's wordy style of writing. Sentences meander down the page for 5, 6, 7 and more lines, leaving the reader anxiously awaiting the appearance of a period. I was repeatedly annoyed by the author's habit of making implications or revealing just a corner of the picture, then blithly skipping on to the next topic without ever completing the story, making a point, or reaching a conclusion. I was frustrated by the author's practice of describing some act of animal cruelty that she observed/read about/heard about without providing any details or context.
In the end, however, I was most offended by the "bait and switch" feeling this book gave me. Years ago, as a horse-crazed little girl, I accepted a librarian's recommendation and took "Black Beauty" home to read. After sobbing my way through the first half of the book, I returned it unfinished, feeling betrayed by the librarian that made the recommendation. "Dark Horses and Black Beauties" didn't inspire quite that depth of emotion, but it still left me feeling cheated.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Giles on December 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was given the book as a gift following the death of a dearly loved horse who had been part of my life for many years. I dug into it immediately, looking for some relief from my grief. While I could very much relate to her early obsession with horses, and since she is close to my age and from my part of the country, much of it felt like reading my own diary.
However, I felt that some of her points verged on rambling. I consider myself a literate, fairly well read individual, but found that I had to reread passages once or twice to try to distill her point. Parts of the book felt like walking through deep mud in heavy boots. Fortunately, every now and then she would provide a high and dry spot to rest and clean up.
Still I would recommend the book, for some of the important bold messages it does contain. Her obviously heartfelt concern for the welfare of the animal is refreshing. I am sorry to say that probably anyone who would be interested in reading the book probably already shares her concern, and once again has to be tortured by the images of the abuses we are painfully aware of and doing what we can to correct.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Wickett on December 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This short book falls short of it's potential by giving each tributary that develops less time to wander than it deserves. As an exploration to come up with ideas about the reasons behind the obsessive attraction girls and women have with horses, the book is excellent. Where it loses itself is in the follow up of each of the ideas that get brought up.
She wisely observes that the world would be a different place without horses as they helped us become mobile, build cities, and fight wars (with some very disturbing statistics regarding the number of horses killed in such endeavors).
She begins numerous theories regarding the questions she has: why the attraction between horses and females? Why are almost all dedicated riders female? How does such a strong bond of communication develop between horses and the women who own/ride them? etc. and again, the ideas brought forth are interesting and seemingly valid.
Some more discussion, thought provoking comments, and conclusions would have bumped this up to four stars from the three that it gets without them.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I felt exactly the same about this book as the reviewer from Gainsville. It hardly explores the relationship between women and horses,it simply describes centuries of cruelty inflicted upon them in a self-concious,pseudo artsy style. Whereas I feel there is a great need for people to be educated about the appauling way animals continue to be abused in the name of profit and entertainment(which amounts to the same thing)from horses to racing greyhounds,circus animals,meat animals,puppy mills and too many others to list here-that is not the way this book has been marketed. Look elsewhere for insight into our great love of horses.
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