Top critical review
45 people found this helpful
Long on passion, short on facts
on June 24, 2008
As a wild horse researcher and advocate, I have mixed feelings about this book. Stillman writes with passion, and her lively style keeps the pace moving. I am encouraged that the book has brought national attention back to the plight of wild horses-and it is certainly time for an update of Hope Ryden's popular and intelligent 1970 book, America's Last Wild Horses. But I don't think this is that book. Stillman's inspiration for this project was the shocking wild horse shootings in Nevada, yet she uses that incident only to "bookend" the text, never really engaging with current attitudes or explaining such behavior. Instead, she gallops off into a re-hashing of western history from the perspective of horses, making a sweeping and unsupported case that every cowboy, Indian and cavalry horse of note were former wild horses/mustangs (by her own admission, she has a hard time appreciating any difference between wild and domestic horses, and this shows throughout). The main body of the book describes these general western contexts rather than wild horses and their histories per se, and too much space is devoted to topics like the Little Big Horn battle, which are not directly relevant and have been covered much better by others. Along the way she perpetuates misconceptions and down-right errors, such as claiming that immense wild herds developed from a few horses that strayed from Spanish explorers, Comanche, the famous Seventh Cavalry mount of Myles Keogh was one of many captured mustangs used by the U.S. Army, and that Plains Indians acquired most of their horses by capturing them wild-she even quotes a "horse taking song" in support of this idea, when it refers to the practice of taking horses from enemy camps (Plains peoples got most of their horses from trading and raiding, not "gathering"). She does not indicate her sources, and I have never seen or even heard of the "Mandan legend" about ice-age horses that she "quotes" from without attribution. These are just a few examples of her focus on the "saga" at the expense of research and experience, which is important because confidence in sources provides common ground for discussion and leads to informed understanding. Bottom line: this is a "feel good" book, meant to stir appreciation for horses, and judging from reviews, it has succeeded in that-at least among receptive readers who already love horses. For those with a background in wild horse issues, this book adds little new information or original thinking to the discussion. The average reader will find it a pleasurable, perhaps heart-warming and heart-breaking ride, but don't use this book as a reference for your next term paper.
Added Later: Yes, Stillman includes a good bibliography; sorry for the misunderstanding-I meant that there is no way to figure out the source of particular statements and interpretations, such as the passage bout the about the Mandan legend. Overall I am certainly supportive of this book; it is a well-written popular treatment of an important subject; but as a specialist on wild horses and North American ethnography, and as someone who teaches anthropology and writing to college students, I could not help but notice the issues that I mentioned.