A rule rooted in animal protection has been changed at a time of mounting awareness and consumer demand for greater concern for animal welfare in sport and elsewhere.
In truth it’s difficult, even naïve, to summarize the book’s organization, because as we travel deeper and deeper into these remarkable and learned sections, there is an increasing sense of the structure breaking down, of demarcations dissolving, their lack of necessity. This is due largely to the strange and beautiful way in which Raulff handles the problem of historicity and narrative. Through looping, meandering and backtracking discourse, he addresses hundreds of subjects, including philosophy, etymology, anti-Semitism, breeding, the Polish cavalry, lost sound and scent histories, theater. He unpacks 19th-century novels, paintings and monuments, as well as dozens of bleak photographs placed within the text in a manner that recalls the dreaminess of Sebald. He layers fact over myth over military anecdote over personal memory over Darwin over Napoleon over Tolstoy over Gehlen until the book resembles an oil painting of outrageous complexity, so thickly laden with paint that it would take years to scrape down to its blank canvas.
It’s a bold play, a kind of intellectual onslaught. Accordingly, this technique occasionally lacks elegance, so the knowledge presented can appear an aggregation of Raulff’s own erudition. But this is a stingy critique; Raulff mostly succeeds and succeeds remarkably. If thinking is the ability to get from point a to a distant point b, he has within this book proved himself a remarkably nimble, creative thinker a thousand times over. He uses a flair for web-thinking to connect seemingly disparate facts into fresh epiphanies on subjects that we might otherwise find overly familiar, presenting himself less as an authority than as an embodiment of intellectual curiosity. At his best, Raulff constructs not just painterly layers of complementary information but wreaths of interconnected facts. In short order, he is capable of braiding together Degas, the thoroughbred, Cromwell, Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin), George Stubbs, anatomical theaters and Muybridge, all before securing the wreath to itself with Degas again. Every few pages, he works this magic. Along these circuitous routes, his prose takes air, floating on the sheer joy of investigation and rumination. (His stirring examination of Kafka’s short story “Longing to Be a Red Indian” is alone worth the price of the book.)
The source of this digressive, wending approach and his unwillingness to play by the rules seems, to this reviewer at least, a resistance born of integrity. Humans are obsessive storytellers and mythmakers. Commenting on historical narratives, Raulff writes, “History is written in the indicative mood, but lived and remembered in the optative — the grammatical mood of wishful thinking.” One could even say the optative is the source of the indicative nature of normative histories. As a savvy historian, Raulff refuses to capitulate to simplistic chronological organization and instead relays events without forcing them into artificial sequence. His approach feels unusual on the page, but deeply familiar, even natural, because it mimics the discursive gymnastics of the mind rather than slavishly linear modes that attempt to organize history into overly patterned or logical systems.
The result of this technique is that Raulff’s text is somehow dreamy but not sentimental; labyrinthine but not frustrating. Interestingly, it produces a portrait of pathos without being overtly elegiac, an intention he makes clear at the outset. That difficult work — the work of co-suffering — rightfully belongs to the reader and requires no didacticism or manipulation to aid it along, only the facts: eight million horses dead in World War I, 1.8 million German horses alone in World War II and then the countless dead that litter the trail of human progress, which has slaughtered animal life in impossible numbers, both impossible to tally and almost impossible to feel. But capsule portraits of the dead help unlock our stalled emotions: When Raulff recounts the historian Reinhart Koselleck’s wartime experience of witnessing a horse galloping with half its head blown away, a vision of “fatal despair,” the reader is wrenched out of any possible complacency. The writer’s mind and the reader’s heart meet on the written page, and here is exactly where so much of the power of literature lies. The reader and writer both self-transcend; a seemingly private act, reading counteracts solipsism.
What may be quite obvious now is that though this book is about horses, it is just as much about thinking as a devotional act. It’s a powerful display of one writer’s willingness to train his mind with unusual care on our coexistence with an animal that has unduly borne both our “physical and metaphorical burdens.” Our world needs more writers willing to do work of this kind, work that often produces little hope of money or fame, the reward for which must be the satisfaction of fastening together rich new connections before they are lost forever. Bravo to those unwilling to let history — whatever history is — slip away unnoticed. Bravo to Ulrich Raulff.
Scientists have known that many mammals appear to have shrunk during the warming period, and the phenomenon fits well with what is known as Bergmann’s rule, which says, roughly, that mammals of a given genus or species are smaller in hotter climates.
Although the rule refers to differences in location, it seemed also to apply to changes over time. But fine enough detail was lacking until now.
In Science, Ross Secord, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Jonathan Bloch, of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and a team of other researchers report on the collection and analysis of Sifrhippus fossils from the Bighorn Basin.
They report that the little horse got 30 percent smaller over the first 130,000 years, and then — as always seems to happen with weight loss — shot back up and got 75 percent bigger over the next 45,000 years.
The fossils indicate that at its smallest Sifrhippus weighed about eight and a half pounds, and at its largest about 15 pounds.
Using fine-grained detail on both climate and body size, the researchers concluded that the change in size was, as suspected, driven primarily by the warming trend.
“It seems to be natural selection,” said Dr. Secord. He said animals evolved to be smaller during warming because smaller animals did better in that environment, perhaps because the smaller an animal is, the easier it is to shed excess heat.
Paul L. Koch, head of the department of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a specialist in reconstructing ecosystems and climates from many millions of years ago, said, “The paper lets us see the effect of warming on mammals where the climate change is really large.”
Dr. Koch, who was not involved in the study, said he thought that the question of whether natural selection was the cause of the changes was still open, and that the disruption of ecosystems during the warming period might have led smaller animals to migrate to new locations.
The current warming period is occurring on a scale of hundreds of years, not thousands, and scientists can only speculate on whether modern mammals will shrink.
“It’s difficult to say that mammals are going to respond in the same way now,“ Dr. Secord said. “If I had to guess,” he said, he thinks some will get smaller. And, he said, some studies have shown some birds to be getting smaller in response to warming.
If warming continues at the highest rate projected, he said, there’s another question: “Can mammals keep up?”