...strange and fascinating … What the horse requires, Raulff suggests, is an “histoire totale.” What he offers instead is a sweeping cultural history, more kaleidoscopic than totale, as bibliographical as it is historical … Farewell to the Horse is a whirlwind that seems capable of drawing into its vortex almost anyone who ever thought of a horse. Jacques Lacan and Alan Turing and Lucian Freud, Goethe and his writing stool, Myron Cohen and his one-way street joke, Nietzsche and his mad embrace of a beaten cart-horse—these and a vast crowd of occasional and oblique equestrians make it clear that what Raulff is tracing are the endless impressions the horse has left on the minds of humans.
In Farewell to the Horse, Ulrich Raulff has composed nothing less than a requiem Mass for this long-suffering, noble creature — a complex and lyrical argument that places the horse in a central role in the creation of the modern world … Raulff takes us through the stupendous cultural shift from agraian life to urbanized industrialization to the actual and symbolic roles of the horse in war and science and art. He shows that beyond pulling carriages, carts and artillery caissons, horses propelled science into a new age as a crucial subject in the study of anatomy, geneology and locomotion...In his searching examination of the horse’s symbolic significance, Raulff illustrates how the animal represented notions of victory, sovereignty, wealth, death and nobility … Raulff has given us an eloquent epitaph for the horse’s long relevance to our world.
[Raulff’s] zeal for horses and his admiration for their gifts propel him and the reader through a long, complicated, somewhat disjointed . . . what? History? Treatise? Memorial? Tribute? Eulogy? Farewell to the Horse is all of those things and something of a love letter besides … Mr. Raulff admits that this last section is not a classical ending with a summary or a synthesis. He has ‘no conclusion, but rather a collection: a loose anthology of possibilities and ways of narrating the history of horses and people.’ After reading more than 300 dense but more often dazzling pages, marveling all the while at the scope and audacity of the author’s undertaking, I found this refusal to draw conclusions disappointing.
As you pick up the reins of this book – trying to get a sense of what sort of a ride it is to be – it becomes evident within three paragraphs that you have never read a book like it … Raulff’s ability to corral scattered equestrians in art, letters and life makes scintillating reading and his writerly pace is exhilarating – especially when he takes flight from his own starting gates … The book is beautifully and idiosyncratically illustrated, in keeping with the text.
[Raulff’s] book excavates and offers up an extraordinary amount of material on the horse in history, literature, art, cinema and philosophy. Farewell to the Horse consists of a series of linked essays loosely organised under the headings energy, knowledge and pathos … The chapters on equine knowledge are among the best in the book. There were always horse experts, of course – connoisseurs, dealers, handlers, breeders, farriers, blacksmiths, riding instructors and cavalrymen. But Raulff persuades us that, beginning in the 18th century, expertise became more extensive, specialised and systematic, the same thing that was happening in other fields of knowledge … Sometimes this book feels as if it lacks a central thread. The themes threaten to burst at the seams as the author packs his text with detail after detail. Farewell to the Horse is nonetheless easy to like and admire, and Raulff is erudite and engaged.
It’s a bold play, a kind of intellectual onslaught. Accordingly, this technique occasionally lacks elegance, so the knowledge presented can appear an aggregation of Raulff’s own erudition. But this is a stingy critique; Raulff mostly succeeds and succeeds remarkably. If thinking is the ability to get from point a to a distant point b, he has within this book proved himself a remarkably nimble, creative thinker a thousand times over. He uses a flair for web-thinking to connect seemingly disparate facts into fresh epiphanies on subjects that we might otherwise find overly familiar, presenting himself less as an authority than as an embodiment of intellectual curiosity. At his best, Raulff constructs not just painterly layers of complementary information but wreaths of interconnected facts ... It’s a powerful display of one writer’s willingness to train his mind with unusual care on our coexistence with an animal that has unduly borne both our 'physical and metaphorical burdens.' Our world needs more writers willing to do work of this kind, work that often produces little hope of money or fame, the reward for which must be the satisfaction of fastening together rich new connections before they are lost forever. Bravo to those unwilling to let history — whatever history is — slip away unnoticed. Bravo to Ulrich Raulff.
Farewell to the Horse ostensibly covers the period of the ‘long 19th century,’ which starts with Napoleon and ends with the first world war. But to call it a history underplays its scope. Mr Raulff gallops through time and space, art criticism, philosophy and economics, plaiting in tales of Kafka, Tolstoy and Comanche, the hard-drinking stallion who was the only non-Indian survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn. His is a category-defying, often dizzying, piece of writing.
A fascinating canter through the history of horses and their dealings, for better or worse, with humans … The book has an almanaclike feel to it, darting from sketch to interesting tidbit to extended narrative. Though it sometimes approaches an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about manual, in all its oddments...there is a thoroughly impressive literary endeavor at play … A top-notch addition to the library of any cultured equestrian; highly readable from start to finish.