BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World
In the days before television, movies and even radio, World's Fairs and other annual expositions were among America's most popular forms of mass entertainment. From 1897 to 1912, one of their largest draws—attracting tens of thousands of wildly enthusiastic fans daily—was a horse. Beautiful Jim Key, whose owner, Dr. William Key, "taught [him] by kindness," could, according to awed contemporary accounts unearthed by longtime ghostwriter/collaborator Rivas (Finding Fish ), add, subtract, spell, cite Bible passages and pluck silver dollars from the bottom of a barrel without drinking the water. Impressive as those feats were, though, they're just one part of this captivating, if occasionally fussy, literary excavation of lost Americana. There is the remarkable life of Dr. Key: born a slave, he was a Union sympathizer in the Civil War even as he saved the lives of his owner's Confederate sons. He was a self-taught veterinarian of great renown, a polished peddler of patent medicine and the man who transformed a bay stallion crippled at birth into "the smartest horse who ever lived." Rivas shows how the intimate bond between horse and man prompted hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to pledge "always to be kind to animals" and propelled the growth of animal-rights and anti-cruelty groups. The world was smaller at the turn of the 20th century; this book's compelling claim that one horse and one man changed it is not, in context, overly brazen. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW . Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan. (Feb. 1)
Forecast: Animal lovers, horse fanciers, Civil War buffs and fans of Seabiscuit (the horse, the book and the film): there are a number of distinct audiences for this fine book, and a PBS documentary should help spread the word .