From Publishers Weekly
Horse racing does not lend itself easily to the drama and characters of most sports, because, as the author puts it, "when your Sammy Sosa has four legs, cannot speak, and has, to all appearances, no idea what people are so worked up about, you have to work harder to generate narrative." In his own quest to trace racing's history and capture its urgency, Sullivan, a former Harper's editor, has indeed worked hard but made it look effortless. He has found narrative not in a particular horse but in The Horsethe cultural, literary and biological phenomenon. It would be easy to expect, in this post-Seabiscuit age, a tale of the triumphant underdog, but Sullivan has more reflective pleasures on his mind. He alternates a history of the South, particularly of Lexington, Ky., where he spent time as a child and where much of the American horse-racing industry is concentrated, with a larger cultural and historical examination. His riffs are also unexpectedly hilarious, especially when he takes a gonzo-ish trip to the Kentucky Derby. Running throughout is the story of Sullivan's late father, a longtime sportswriter and dreamer whom the author lovingly, but largely unsentimentally, worships, and whose presence provides a kind of magnetic pull without overwhelming the book. Sullivan, who won a National Magazine Award for the piece on which this book was based, has a fairly liberal approach to structure and pace, but no matter: he has written a history as sweeping as it is personal and whose coherence is made more impressive by its lack of central dramaa book that is, in short, as remarkable as the finest horses it documents.
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Sullivan has written a strange amalgam of a book: part personal reminiscence; part bittersweet elegy for his father, sportswriter Mike Sullivan; and part wide-ranging investigation into the history and culture of the horse, particularly the Thoroughbred racehorse. Spurred by his father's recollection of Secretariat's Kentucky Derby victory in 1973, the author devoted two years of intensive reading and travel to understanding the various aspects and allure of Thoroughbred racing. Although he remains in some respects an amateur, communicating what he has learned with an amateur's zeal and certainty, he has learned a great deal. In describing the roles horses have played throughout human history in war and peace and the way Thoroughbreds are bred, sold, trained, and raced today, Sullivan provides vivid detail and, occasionally, penetrating insight. His account of War Emblem's 2002 bid for racing's Triple Crown makes for especially compelling reading. Dennis DodgeCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved