Book Review: All Creatures Great and Small

“In the rolling dales of Yorkshire, a simple, rural region of northern England, a young veterinarian from Sunderland joins a new practice. A stranger in a strange land, he must quickly learn the odd dialect and humorous ways of the locals, master outdated equipment, and do his best to mend, treat, and heal pets and livestock alike. This witty and heartwarming collection, based on the author’s own experiences, became an international success, spawning sequels and winning over animal lovers everywhere. Perhaps better than any other writer, James Herriot reveals the ties that bind us to the creatures in our lives.” 

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8.5/10 stars 

Some readers might recognize James Herriot’s book titles from lyrics in the Anglican hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” sung in many Christian denominations. Regardless of whether you have heard the song or not, Herriot’s book All Creatures Great and Small fosters a similar soothing and warm-hearted sentiment in its readers. 

James Herriot, a young veterinarian fresh out of school, is thrown into the deep end when he joins a practice in a new environment. Armed with mostly textbook knowledge, he must quickly learn how to work with his varied clients. Herriot’s journey particularly resonates with me because it provides a realistic glimpse of how newly-graduated vets must feel when they start to practice. His frustrations and tribulations with difficult animals and clients were highly entertaining, since his light-hearted language makes everything endearing in an eye-rolling way. From Herriot’s mentor Siegfried Farnon to his client Mrs. Pumphrey, the characters represent all sorts of people veterinarians will encounter accurately, without being overly stereotypical. 

The book is set in the 1930s, in a rural farming community. As someone who has lived in an urban area all her life, I find Herriot’s descriptions of the smallest aspects of his life to be transportive. Becoming a large animal vet was not particularly on my radar, so it is also really interesting to see how they used to practice and how far veterinary medicine has come.

I also notice how Herriot had to put in a lot of energy in integrating himself with the Yorkshire community. He slowly chipped away at the mitrust and doubt with a personable, genuine attitude and consistent work ethic. It really reminds me of how vets are part of a community, how the bonds they form with people and animals are important, and how the crazy stories are memories to last a lifetime. 

I worked on All Creatures Great and Small over the course of several months as I commuted to work, but not because it was difficult to get through. Rather, it’s because the book consists of short stories, or chapters that can be enjoyed independently. There is still ample character development throughout the book, which smooths over any choppiness between chapters.

I highly recommend this book for any prospective vets out there or for anyone who’s interested in animals. It did an excellent job of reminding me why being a veterinarian is so worthwhile, and I hope it inspires other readers to humanize their vets, local farmers, and all creatures great and small.

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