A tale about humanity, as seen from the point of view from a horse called Black Beauty, I found this story enthralling from the start. The whole story is narrated by Black Beauty as he tells of how various circumstances caused him to be passed between a succession of owners throughout his life. This includes him being required to do various jobs, including fox hunting and, most commonly, pulling a hansom cab.
A large amount of the story deals with humanity's cruelty towards animals, and there are some shocking moments that depict horses being flogged, including a particularly upsetting moment involving Beauty's friend Ginger. Throughout the book, it is quite clear which of the human characters the reader is expected to like and dislike, and many of Black Beauty's owners are barbaric towards him and don't know how to treat horses, while others are sympathetic and stand up against the cruelty.
The most enjoyable thing about this book was the fact that all the horses (who speak to each other in the book) are very intelligent, and have a good understanding of humanity. So, the book often focusses on the actions of the humans, as Black Beauty observes them. The only similar thing I can ever remember reading in a story was the chapter in Gulliver's Travels with the land of the Hounhymns (talking horses). There is also an implicit critique of the futility of war in one chapter, where an old war horse tells Black Beauty his story, observing how he had no idea what the purpose of all the fighting was. The whole thing made me suspect that we must actually seem quite strange to animals!
Overall, I found this story enjoyable, though it was very upsetting at times because of the shocking treatment given to Black Beauty and the other horses. I would definitely recommend it to others.
Next book: Last Things First (Graham Beynon)