This book is a memoir of a James Herriot and follows him during his first two years as a country vet in the Yorkshire Dales. He joins the practice of Siegfried Frarnon and after Siegfried's brother Tristan fails his college exams he joins the practice as well. The book mostly consists of the various case that Herriot worked on during this time: from birthing calves and doctoring sick cats and dogs. Herriot began practicing veterinary medicine in the 1930's and so some of the illnesses described in this book are no longer a problem for today's vets. For example tuberculosis was a particular problem among cows during this time and today it is practically unheard of. But the 30's was also a time when veterinary medicine was changing thanks to then recent scientific advances. It was during this time that vets were beginning to stop mixing their own medicines using motor and pestle and instead receive shipments of pills and injections. But although these advances were being implemented Herriot often had to deal with the country farmers who still believed in traditional remedies that were mostly ineffective and sometimes caused more harm then good. A particularly funny case is when he is called out to visit a horse who was having trouble walking. Upon arriving he is told that the farmer had tried his own 'remedy' on the horse but that it hadn't worked. As the remedy consisted of sticking a raw onion up the horses butt Herriot (and myself for that matter) was unsupervised that the horse was still not walking normally. From being kicked by cows and bitten by dogs to saving kittens and doctoring sick pigs All Creatures Great and Small describes the trails and joys of being a country vet in rural Yorkshire in the 1930s.
This book was a pleasure to read. Each chapter is a different veterinary case and rarely goes over 10 pages so it is an easy book to put down and then come back to later. For a vet Herriot is an extremely talented writer. True, some of the dialogue is a bit stilled but overall I was impressed. What is great about this book is that you can tell that he truly loves what he is doing; his love for the animals and the surrounding countryside is evident on every page. And although not all the cases had a happy ending this is the kind of book that leaves you with one of those warm feelings inside when you've finished. It is an easy read and although nothing truly profound is said within its pages I was really glad that I decided to read it. If I had to describe this book in one word it would be: charming! There is a sequel called All Things Bright and Beautiful which I also have and he has written other books as well although I am not sure about the particulars of them. If you like stories about animals or just want a feel-good book this is one to put on your list.
However it should be said that although this book is mainly marketed as memoir Herriot altered some things. For the start James Herriot is a pen name; his real name was James Alfred Wight. In this book his wife's name is Helen when her real name was Joan. Siegfried and Tristan Farnon are based off of Brian Sinclair and Brian Sinclair who James worked with. This book was written in the early 70s at a time when it was considered unprofessional for veterinarians to advertise their services so it is understandable why he chose a pen name for himself and his peers. In the book James works in a town called Darrowby which is based off of the towns of Thirsk and Sowerby in North Yorkshire. In addition most of the anecdotes that take place in the book during the 30s actually occurred in the 60s according to James' son. I am not trying to discourage anyone from picking up the book based on these facts; I personally like to know when reading memoirs when the author has changed or altered some of the events in their book and so I thought I would share it with you. The fact that these details were changed did not lessen my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. The book is highly believable the way it is written and the essence of the book has remained true to real life events.