Synopses & Reviews
For close to a century, a majestic chapter of American history has been buried in an obscure grave in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Beautiful Jim Key, the onetime ugly duckling of a scrub colt that became one of the most heralded and beloved heroes of his day, was famous neither for his beauty nor his speed but instead for his exceptional intelligence. Said to have an I.Q. equivalent to that of a human sixth-grader, Jim exploded on to the national scene in 1897 by demonstrating inexplicable abilities to read, write, spell, do mathematics, tell time, sort mail, cite biblical passages, and debate politics.
For the next nine years, Jim performed in nationwide expositions and world's fairs to wildly receptive crowds, smashing box-office records, overcoming hurdles of prejudice and skepticism, all the while winning rapturous praise from the press and leaders such as President McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
In this breathtaking saga, Jim's astonishing journey is coupled with that of his trainer and best friend, Dr. William Key, a self-taught veterinarian, former slave, Civil War veteran, prominent African-American entrepreneur, and one of the most renowned horse whisperers of his time -- a man who shunned all force in the training of horses, instead relying on kindness and patience.
Masterful storyteller and bestselling author Mim Eichler Rivas at long last gives two cultural icons their due, not only unraveling the mystery of their disappearance but examining how, thanks to the rare and intimate relationship between horse and man that was championed by promoter and humane activist Albert R. Rogers, a dramatic shift took place in the public mind that made kindness to animals a cornerstone of modern civilization and helped launch the animal rights movement. Unveiled against the backdrop of American history, Beautiful Jim Key is their incredible tale.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Masterfully told, poignant, and rich with spellbinding historical detail, this is the remarkable, true story of an extraordinary horse and his pioneering trainer who symbolized America at the dawn of the 20th century. 16-page photo insert.
About the Author
Mim Eichler Rivas has worked as an author, coauthor, and ghostwriter on more than twelve nonfiction books, including the New York Timesbestseller Finding Fish. Raised in Tennessee, she lives with her family in Hermosa Beach, California.