All Creatures Great and Small

by James Herriot

Hardcover, 1972



An English veterinarian reminisces about his life, career, and animal patients in a small village.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
If you need an antidote to the depressing postmodern inanities we are forced to read in college, read Herriot. If you're tired of literary pretension and pomposity, read Herriot. If you're looking for humor and a warm humanity set against a backdrop of wild, breathtaking natural beauty — well, you really ought to read Herriot. In All Creatures Great and Small, the first in his autobiographical series, James Herriot tells of his experiences as a veterinary surgeon in 1930s Yorkshire, England. It's a treasure of a book, the kind you buy extra copies of to give away, the kind you return to like an old friend.

Herriot is one of the most likeable narrators I've ever had the pleasure of reading. He is very humble and aware of his own shortcomings, but instead of burdening the reader with self-absorbed, angsty self-esteem issues and blaming his environment and/or social context for whatever failings he possesses, he pokes fun at himself and gets us laughing too... while still sympathizing keenly with his triumphs and defeats. Other critics have noted that it's simply astonishing that an unknown vet would have such perfect literary control in his first book, but he does. It almost seems effortless.

But this is no cozy, insipid, chicken-soup "inspirational" read. People who like such books may enjoy it, but there are harsh realities here too. Some stories don't have happy endings. Animals die. People die. Herriot witnesses the range of human relationships, from the millionaire whose wife and daughter despise him to the struggling farmer whose daughter bicycles two miles in the rain just to surprise her father with a bottle of Guinness. A lifetime of labor may come to nothing in the end; a man's dreams can fall through at the smallest misfortune. Farming in Yorkshire in the 1930s was about survival, a lifelong struggle with the elements. Herriot admires the toughness and plain courage of the average Dalesman while acknowledging the price such a life exacts. This isn't a book of warm fuzzies; it's much more real than that.

At the same time, Herriot's wry humor is infectious and many of his observations get me laughing out loud, even on my third or fourth read. Siegfried Farnon and his colorful brother Tristan are masterpieces of character sketching; they could walk off the page. They were no doubt infuriating at times to live with, but such fun to read about. From Tristan's practical jokes and escapades to Siegfried's well-known "saintly" expression and tussles with Miss Harbottle, life with the Farnon brothers is always an adventure. And don't forget the crusty Dales farmers and other local characters, too many to count, or the many animals whose personalities color the stories.

As the book is largely composed of anecdotes from Herriot's early years as a vet, there is an episodic feel to the narrative. But there are also some themes and broad arcs that come to a neat close by the end of the book, like Herriot's growing appreciation of the Dales farmers and his courtship and marriage with Helen (his descriptions of her, by the way, are lyrical in their simplicity and amazingly romantic; you can tell he loves her deeply and faithfully). Interspersed among all the stories are little asides about the practice of veterinary medicine, the old remedies the vets used and the revolutionary discoveries that were about to crash in on the practice and change it forever. I love the historical flavor, imparted by one who was there to see the old give way to the new.

I used to read Herriot in college to draw the poison when my soul was sick with reading "important" books. I submit to you that there are few things more important than the warm honesty, heart, and humor of the colorful characters in Herriot's Yorkshire. There is something so wholesome and invigorating about the world he depicts, and I love my visits there. This is a wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
When I was young I wanted to be an author and a vet when I grew up. Knowing this, my parents introduced me to the writing of James Herriot, who was both. Later I decided that having to fiddle with animal innards everyday is not the same as owning pets and I veered more towards the writing side of my ambitions, but it never affected my love for Herriot’s writing. I’d already read his collections, Dog Stories, Animal Stories and Cat Stories and some of the tales in those volumes are drawn from this book. But they’re such sweet tales that it was a pleasure to re-read them.

This memoir, the first in the series, introduces us to James Herriot, a Scottish vet working in rural England in the first half of the 20th century. His writing has a wonderful warm feeling. He can find the humor in any situation, while at the same time understanding the seriousness of others. He manages to portray the bittersweet nature of his job with an admirable sincerity, never deriding his clients’ love of their animals and treating each case with the utmost importance.

I love reading Herriot’s funny stories about his early days as a vet. Each one is told with a dry British sense of humor. Some of them are a bit too detailed (talking about the animal procedures) and make me squeamish, but that’s to be expected and it’s always relevant info. His descriptions of the stoic farmers and eccentric partners are a constant source of amusement throughout the book. I found myself wishing that the book wouldn’t end, which is a rare thing.
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LibraryThing member ymusti
if you love animals and is curious about the life of a vet working with all creatures great and small, this is the book to read. Funny and heartwarming.
LibraryThing member aratiel
Absolutely charming and immensely readable.
LibraryThing member MrsLee
The first of four books, this is filled with touching and funny moments as Mr. Herriot describes his first years as a veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales of England. We meet Sigmund, his boss and Tristan, Sigmund's prankster brother. Tricksy Woo is just one of the animals who will charm you, along with their rugged, individualist owners and the lovely countryside of England.… (more)
LibraryThing member clif_hiker
Not much I can say that hasn't been said before... a timeless classic that I've reread a number of times. I enjoy each reading as much as the first, laughing and tearing up over the familiar stories and characters.
LibraryThing member ASBiskey
While visiting my parents, I needed something to read. Perusing their shelves, I came upon All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot and decided to start it, as I have a copy at home to continue with when I left. I have read all of the All Creatures Great and Small books in the past and watched the BBC program while growing up, so I didn’t expect to be surprised. Even with my prior experience with the series, rereading this book was still one of the most satisfying reads I have had in quite some time. This book is brilliant. It sparkles with humor. Birth, life, love, and death are all woven together within the stories in a tender, humorous manner. I would recommend this book to anyone of any age. I cannot praise it enough.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narilka
All Creatures Great and Small is the memoir of an English country vet fresh out of university. From a cow having trouble birthing a calf to treating an over pampered pooch and everything in between, these are the stories of James Herriot's first years as a vet in the 1930s.

I have been curious to read this book for a while now and am glad I did. These stories are absolutely charming. The book hits a broad range from funny moments to embarrassing to sad to uplifting. The stories are not just about the animals, but also those people around them. You can feel Herriot's love of the Yorkshire Dales throughout the book. It's also a pretty good reminder of just how far we have come with veterinary science. I can see myself reading this one again.… (more)
LibraryThing member fuzzi
This is an old favorite of mine: I'm not sure how many times I've read this delightful book since I acquired my first copy, about 1974, but every time I head back into the Yorkshire Dales, I am enthralled yet again.

All Creatures Great and Small was written by a veterinarian, and is based upon his experiences in the Yorkshire Dales during the 1930s. The author had a way with words and situations that can make me grin and chuckle, or shake my head, or even, at times, can give me a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye!

It's a treat for animal lovers, or just lovers of a good story.
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LibraryThing member DanStratton
I am not an animal person by any stretch. I would much rather read about them than be around them. That probably has something to do with my copious allergies. I have been familiar with Mr. Herriot's books for a number of years, but haven't really read them much. When we started watching the BBC series on Netflix, I decided it was time to do it. The book is wonderful! I love his lilting style of storytelling. He has a way of describing some of the most uncomfortable things in the world, like putting his arm up the backside of a cow in the middle of a windswept field in the middle the night in January, that still makes it fascinating. While I could never be a large animal vet (or small animal for that matter), it have to say for a few short moments, I wish I could have his experiences.

One side effect of reading his books is that I have a deep desire to see the Yorkshire Dales someday. His descriptions make it sound like a wonderful place with a wide variety of life to experience. The beauty he describes is captivating and sounds like some of those places that don't exist anymore. Who knows, maybe it doesn't really exist, but I'd like to find out.

James Herriot was the penname of James Alfred Wight. He wrote under a penname to maintain both his and his client's privacy, as he was a practicing vet while writing the books. If you want to read some good background information on Mr. Wight, try this website.
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LibraryThing member ZanaDi17
Very cute!! Some of James stories will have you either laughing out loud or almost crying. As well as talking about the many characters james runs into out in the hills of england, also talks about his personal life and the lives of his co-workers. This a good book to curl up with your own furry friend on the couch.
LibraryThing member yapete
Brings back memories of lazy summer afternoons as a kid, curled up with a good book. What a great book, full of humour, warmth and wisdom.
LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
Okay, I must confess that I only made it halfway through this book. It was good, but man it's long. This is one of several memoirs written by James Herriot, a Scotish vet in the 1930s. He includes many humorous anecdotes and great descriptions of the characters in his life (both colleagues and customers). I enjoyed what I read of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member MerryMary
I don't understand why I love these books. I have nothing in common with a English vet from the 1930's, but I enter Herriot's world effortlessly and laugh and cry with every story. What a writer.
LibraryThing member dawng
I really enjoyed this book. I recommended this to my Mom, who is a big romance buff. She agreed that it is fun to read but doesn't find it to be the great romance, as I described it. In general, it is a good, wholesome book that would be fun to read aloud with kids. I also found it inspiring to think about finding the career that is so gratifying that one can put up with the hardships.… (more)
LibraryThing member 391
James Herriot is an incredible storyteller. His stories are moving, hilarious, and a pure joy to read.
LibraryThing member Eldritch_Crank
Humane and humorous memoirs about the life of a veterinarian, mostly set in the late 1930s through the 1940s with a few of the stories taking place in the 1960s in the later part of the series. The author drew upon a journal that he kept during those years.
LibraryThing member lefty33
I have always loved animals, so this series was a natural one for me to pick up. The book can be read as though it were full of short stories, but reads even better as a complete story. James Herriot shares his success, failure, and humor in this beautifully written book.
LibraryThing member EmScape
A charming collection of stories from the life of a 1930's veterinarian in Yorkshire, England. Herriot is as good a writer as he is a vet. Although, I believe I now know far more than I ever wanted to about the uteruses of various farm animals, I do plan to read the entire series. Herriot's prose and genuineness really capture a reader and leave one wanting more.… (more)
LibraryThing member pwinn
Herriot's first book, an autobiographical collection of stories recalling his life as a large-animal vet, is charming. He went on to write several more books on the same theme, and while some of them were more thematically unified, All Creatures Great and Small bounces around a little, and I think it benefits from the lighter touch.

It's a classic, and well worth reading whether you love animals or not. You might even find yourself enjoying animals a bit more by the end!
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LibraryThing member edwardsgt
I'd forgotten how entertaining these stories are until someone gave me this for Xmas. Although I'd seen many of the classic TV series with Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy and Peter Davison and read odd extracts I'd never read this edition in its entirety. Well worth reading even if you've seen the TV programmes or film.
LibraryThing member pagination
If you like people and/or animals, this book is definitely for you. This is the first of five books, none of which require any prior knowledge beyond the fact that the writer is a veterinarian in Yorkshire during the '30s and '40s. The author/narrator is plainly not a trained writer, but his writing is charming and engaging nonetheless, and he's got a distinctive voice and gift for sketching the personalities around him. The book is laid out in short story format, with one encapsulated story for each chapter or two, so it's an easy read to pick up and put down in those moments you have free.

Here he introduces the characters of Siegfried, his boss, and Tristan, his boss's younger brother, and the colorful characters (both animal and human) that he encounters during the course of his daily work in Yorkshire as a farm vet. It's worth noting that this is classified in various places as both non-fiction and fiction. The series was eventually turned into a television series by the BBC, though the books have a quicker pace and are -- in my opinion, anyway -- more fun.
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LibraryThing member Talbin
I first read All Creatures Great and Small when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and it sparked my great junior high desire to become a veterinarian. After over 30 years, I decided to re-read James Herriot's classic tale of being a veterinarian in 1930's Yorkshire countryside. Although I wasn't nearly as entranced as I was at 11, I enjoyed the book for what it is.

In an almost unrelentingly upbeat style, Herriot weaves together stories and vignettes from his first two years as an apprentice veterinarian. Herriot's writing is light and breezy, which makes the book quite easy and fast to read. Most of the stories are very short, and one learns more than one might want to know about the reproductive systems of several animals. I found that some of the stories started to become a bit repetitive after awhile, but throughout All Creatures Great and Small Herriot is able to find humor and inject little life lessons. While this type of writing may be "just what the doctor ordered" for some people, for me it was a bit too treacly and sweet.
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LibraryThing member diwms
If you love animals you will love these books. Additionally, these books can be read and put down easily since each chapter is generally a individual story . This makes it quite nice for brief periods of reading.
LibraryThing member glennfeole
It's hard to say how moving and motivating this book is - how to pursue living a life at its sweetest.


St. Martin's Press (1972), Edition: Early edition, 441 pages


Original publication date


Physical description

441 p.; 8.3 inches
Page: 0.2104 seconds