Valerie's Reviews > Every Living Thing

Every Living Thing by James Herriot
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Sep 21, 2011

I own a copy

One of the reviews of this volume says that Herriot published 8 books. I'm a bit puzzled by the count. I know, for example, that there was a separate publication of Only One Woof, and I think another story (perhaps Judy the Nurse Dog?) was also published seperately. And of course, there's James Herriot's Yorkshire. I suppose that does make 8--but I'm not sure of the other single story.

Where The Lord God Made Them All several times overtly quotes a journal (reinforcing my belief that Herriot routinely maintained a diary, despite his repeated disdain for 'paperwork'), the other books genererally retain an anecdotal air, and this is no exception. This volume, published in 1992, was apparently Herriot's last work, and is mostly the gleanings and leftovers from the other four, supplemented by stories from later years.

It would be worthwhile to create an index of the whole series, so that people could seek out their favorite story. Another project I personally probably won't have time for (like I needed any more).

One odd note: I think Herriot's often expressed hatred of change may have caused him to fail of inventiveness sometimes. For example, when he described the injuries to older cows with sagging udders, I mulled it over for a while, and then wondered "Why couldn't they just supply the cows with bras?" A quick Google search, and it turns out they could. Bras for cows were invented in the 1940s, and began gaining popularity in the '60s. But if Herriot ever heard of them, he doesn't mention it.

Note also that there's a tendency not to recognize how many of the ailments depicted are also human ailments. 'Fistulous withers' is not a human condition, likely (I'm pretty sure humans don't have withers), but fistulae DO occur in humans (usually women who have been raped), and can be severely disabling. Likely there are also broken bones that never knit, and other probelms. I know, for example, that prolapsed uterus is a condition that effects humans. And when I learned that there was a vaccine for e coli in cattle, I checked to see if there was a human one. There is--but there must be some problem with it--otherwise, why wouldn't humans be routinely vaccinated against one of the commonest causes of food poisoning?

I also was rather shocked to find that 'spaying' involves a complete hysterectomy. I had assumed that female animals would be neutered in a complementary way to males (removing the ovaries only, as the males generally have the testicles crushed and the vas deferens cut). I'm not sure, but I suspect there would be health consequences from routine hysterectomies, and some are casually mentioned in this book, though how common they are is not mentioned.

One secret of Herriot's enduring popularity was probably his indefagitable optimism. This was not any kind of 'positive thinking'. There's no doubt the man often anticipated the worst outcome, and was often agreeably shocked when he managed to pull out a miracle (often for no reason he could discern). What I'm referring to is a tendency to enjoy life, and a hopeful outlook (the belief that things would improve, and that the present has its problems, but that life, in general, is as he would wish it). This book, though written very late in Herriot's life, ends on a hopeful note, as Herriot looks forward to befriending a very shy feral cat, and manages to convince himself that it's possible. He ends as he began, looking forward.

This does have its disadvantages (as when he complacently accepts loss of genetic diversity, for example), but it also has its value, if tempered by careful critical analysis. There tends to be a premise that any change is for the better. But note that in several cases where people build basically sterilized piggeries, the pigs begin to suffer serious communicable diseases. Pigs in ancient times were turned out to pasture (well, foraging in forests, really). This had significant advantages over even the cleanest confinement. The pigs were not in close proximity to each other and to humans, nor to their own excrement. So there would have been a lot less cross-contamination within and between species (influenza, to state one of the most obvious). This may not be practicable in the largely deforested England of the present--but it may be a good argument for reforestation of denuded hillsides, and one few people may have considered yet.

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