Read enough dog books, and you'll conclude that few dog enthusiasts extend their expertise to writing. A weak genre, dog books tend to be mediocre yet numerous. The fundamentals are often lacking: keen editing, meaningful research, an engaging voice, and a fascinating topic.
By contrast, Cynthia Branigan stands out as an active and competent dog enthusiast, as well as a brilliant writer. Her remarkably researched and illustrated The Reign of the Greyhound, 2nd ed. is outstanding. Simply stated, dog books don't get any better than this.
Although I do think that history is important to understand, it's often presented in an unbearably dry and lifeless manner. "The history of the Greyhound parallels the history of Western Civilization," proclaims the book jacket. I winced, expecting the book to be too pedantic to enjoy. Now I'm thumping myself over the head with this 227-page hardcover for being so foolish. Branigan uses excellent judgment in making the book comprehensive enough to be educational, concise enough to be palatable, and enriched with enough detail to be intriguing. Further, her writing style isn't strictly journalistic, as she interjects enough social commentary to get a feel for the person behind the pen.
Not exclusively about "Greyhounds," Branigan extends her discussion to all sighthounds. She often refers to Irish wolfhounds, Scottish deerhounds, and other greyhound-like breeds. Only as her discussion turns to the more modern issues of breed showing and track racing does it really narrow itself to the Greyhound, per se.
After introducing some commonalities among all sighthounds, Branigan traces Greyhound history from archaeological vestiges of dogs' earliest ancestors through dog racing retirees who have gone on to become house pets. It is a compelling journey from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, on to America and modern times. Branigan adds trivia in the form of folklore, references to famous people and their hounds, and even dogs' names, to enrich the experience. The icing is Branigan's poignant, personal history with these dogs.
You may have heard that Greyhounds are the only breed mentioned in the Bible, but who knew that General Custer coursed his hounds on the day that he perished at the Battle of Little Big Horn? More amusingly, who knew that his wife was jealous of Byron, a particular Greyhound who used to push her out of bed? This is the kind of thing that makes any dog lover chuckle.
I certainly would have liked Pythagoras a whole lot better in high school geometry classes if I knew that he and his followers believed, "that if you held a dog to the mouth of a dying person, that person's soul would enter the dog." On the other hand, the graphic descriptions of Columbus's use of dogs - Greyhounds and Mastiffs - to maul natives of Jamaica is far more sobering. Never dull, this book rolls along like a great adventure through good times and bad.
One comes away from this book with a healthy respect for the Greyhound as both an athlete and inextricable part of human history. This is a wonderful celebration of all greyhound-like dogs, as well as dogs in general. It's a must-read for anyone with a fondness for sighthounds, and it is an excellent gift idea.
Kate Connick |
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