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Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – March 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

He didn't look like much. With his smallish stature, knobby knees, and slightly crooked forelegs, he looked more like a cow pony than a thoroughbred. But looks aren't everything; his quality, an admirer once wrote, "was mostly in his heart." Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of the horse who became a cultural icon in Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Seabiscuit rose to prominence with the help of an unlikely triumvirate: owner Charles Howard, an automobile baron who once declared that "the day of the horse is past"; trainer Tom Smith, a man who "had cultivated an almost mystical communication with horses"; and jockey Red Pollard, who was down on his luck when he charmed a then-surly horse with his calm demeanor and a sugar cube. Hillenbrand details the ups and downs of "team Seabiscuit," from early training sessions to record-breaking victories, and from serious injury to "Horse of the Year"--as well as the Biscuit's fabled rivalry with War Admiral. She also describes the world of horseracing in the 1930s, from the snobbery of Eastern journalists regarding Western horses and public fascination with the great thoroughbreds to the jockeys' torturous weight-loss regimens, including saunas in rubber suits, strong purgatives, even tapeworms.

Along the way, Hillenbrand paints wonderful images: tears in Tom Smith's eyes as his hero, legendary trainer James Fitzsimmons, asked to hold Seabiscuit's bridle while the horse was saddled; critically injured Red Pollard, whose chest was crushed in a racing accident a few weeks before, listening to the San Antonio Handicap from his hospital bed, cheering "Get going, Biscuit! Get 'em, you old devil!"; Seabiscuit happily posing for photographers for several minutes on end; other horses refusing to work out with Seabiscuit because he teased and taunted them with his blistering speed.

Though sometimes her prose takes on a distinctly purple hue ("His history had the ethereal quality of hoofprints in windblown snow"; "The California sunlight had the pewter cast of a declining season"), Hillenbrand has crafted a delightful book. Wire to wire, Seabiscuit is a winner. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

HGifted sportswriter Hillenbrand unearths the rarefied world of thoroughbred horse racing in this captivating account of one of the sport's legends. Though no longer a household name, Seabiscuit enjoyed great celebrity during the 1930s and 1940s, drawing record crowds to his races around the country. Not an overtly impressive physical specimenD"His stubby legs were a study in unsound construction, with huge, squarish, asymmetrical 'baseball glove' knees that didn't quite straighten all the way"Dthe horse seemed to transcend his physicality as he won race after race. Hillenbrand, a contributor to Equus magazine, profiles the major players in Seabiscuit's fantastic and improbable career. In simple, elegant prose, she recounts how Charles Howard, a pioneer in automobile sales and Seabiscuit's eventual owner, became involved with horse racing, starting as a hobbyist and growing into a fanatic. She introduces esoteric recluse Tom Smith (Seabiscuit's trainer) and jockey Red Pollard, a down-on-his-luck rider whose specialty was taming unruly horses. In 1936, Howard united Smith, Pollard and "The Biscuit," whose performance had been spottyDand the horse's star career began. Smith, who recognized Seabiscuit's potential, felt an immediate rapport with him and eased him into shape. Once Seabiscuit started breaking records and outrunning lead horses, reporters thronged the Howard barn day and night. Smith's secret workouts became legendary and only heightened Seabiscuit's mystique. Hillenbrand deftly blends the story with explanations of the sport and its culture, including vivid descriptions of the Tijuana horse-racing scene in all its debauchery. She roots her narrative of the horse's breathtaking career and the wild devotion of his fans in its socioeconomic context: Seabiscuit embodied the underdog myth for a nation recovering from dire economic straits. (Mar.) Forecast: Despite the shrinking horse racing audienceDand the publishing adage that books on horse racing don't sellDthis book has the potential to do well, even outside the realm of the racing community, due to a large first printing and forthcoming Universal Studios movie. A stylish cover will attract both baby boomers and young readers, tapping into the sexiness and allure of the "Sport of Kings." Hillenbrand's glamorous photo on the book jacket won't hurt her chances, and Seabiscuit should sell at a galloping pace.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 399 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449005615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449005613
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,344 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

298 of 303 people found the following review helpful By R. George on March 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Let me say a few things up front: I have never set foot on a racetrack, I have watched the Kentucky Derby maybe twice on TV and I have little interest in jockeys, horse trainers or horses in general. For those who think this is a book about a racehorse, think again. It is a wonderful, descriptive work about the underdog, about triumph over adversity, about personality in animals and, most importantly, about a rarely discussed slice of America.
With a keen sportswriters eye toward detail as well as broader context, Ms. Hillenbrand has written a vivid description of an amazing animal, the three men around him and an era in American sports and history. Seabiscuit was a fascinating creature, not only for his deceptive power but for his playful, competitive nature. Ms. Hillenbrand helps us understand this horse as a person - a person you instinctively root for. His owner, a self-made success in the automobile industry, displays concern for the horse as if it were a child. Seabiscuit's trainer embodied the western spirit and had an uncanny bond with the horse - he was a real-life horse whisperer. Finally, the harrowing, rough and tumble life of a jockey during the 1930's is painted here with unsympathetic accuracy, as we learn about the trials of Red Pollard. Seabiscuit was the hub of these three lives and their extraordinary accomplishment on the racetrack.
The book builds toward two climaxes - the match race against War Admiral (which Ms. Hillenbrand desribes in such wonderful detail) and the ever elusive Santa Anita Handicap. Although historical, the book has a novel-like suspense that keeps the uninformed reader rapt and engrossed. This book, which describes the regional split between east and west coast race horses, really describes the potential and scrappy nature of the American west. Thank you, Ms. Hillenbrand, for such a terrific read.
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324 of 331 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Seabiscuit's "gallop was so disorganized that he had a maddening tendency to whack himself in the front ankle with his own hind hoof." And so the spell-binding story about a horse that runs with a duck waddle, a jockey (Red Pollard) who is blind in one eye, a trainer (Tom Smith) who is practically mute, and an owner (Charles Howard) who brought cars to the West is born. This unlikely group of misfits joins together through chance -- and because all three men immediately see the untapped potential in a mistreated, high-spirited, and lazy horse named Seabiscuit. This trio devotes their love, skills, and energy into turning Seabiscuit into one of the most phenomenal horse racing legends.
Tom Smith, perhaps the original "horsewhisperer", spends hours learning and understanding his horse. When Seabiscuit is first put into his care for training, the horse is nervous, paces incessantly, weighs too little, and suffers from a sore body. Tom spends time caring for Seabiscuit, showering him with affection and carrots, even sleeping in Seabiscuit's stall at night. A daily routine is introduced plus animal companionship. Before long, Seabiscuit has his own entourage: a cow pony named Pumpkin, the little stray dog Pocatell, and Jojo the spider monkey. Under Tom's care, the high-spirited Seabiscuit learns to trust, becomes calm, and, most importantly, starts winning horse races.
The triumph of Seabiscuit is ultimately the story of what any person (or animal) may accomplish when their talents are recognized, supported, and expanded. Seabiscuit, given his inauspicious start in life, could just as easily have faded away into non-existence running third tier races. However, the love and care he receives from his owner, jockey, and trainer have you cheering until the end of the book for Seabiscuit to keep running (and winning) with his heart. Not only does Seabiscuit capture the hearts of the misfit trio, he will capture yours.
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130 of 135 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
This fascinating work of non-fiction is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Unlike a lot of historical non-fiction, this intriguing story did not read like a textbook - it read like fiction and not once did I find myself skimming the details ... too interesting to skim through!
When I first heard about this story, I wasn't sure about it - after all, I really know (or should I say "knew") very little about horse racing. Despite my misgivings, I soon realized that a major purpose of this book was not only to teach the reader about this sport via Seabiscuit's career but also to memorialize the amazing individuals (Charles Howard, Tom Smith, Red Pollard, George Woolf, etc.) who defied all odds to make such a successful racing career possible.
I especially liked the chapters dealing with the difficulties of life as a jockey - the way the jockeys punished their bodies to the extreme for the honor of participating in a harrowingly dangerous sport was truly unbelievable...and I thought ballerinas were harsh on their bodies when it came to weight loss! Red was my favorite character and I can't help wondering if the author felt a particular kinship with the jockey as a result of her own struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - after all, she did have to push her own body beyond her normal physical limits to complete her research and write this amazing book!
Ms. Hillenbrand successfully incorporated the story of Seabiscuit's racing career into the historical context of the era. Seabiscuit was a much needed diversion for Americans who were suffering the depths of the Great Depression. ...And perhaps, through Laura Hillenbrand, Team Seabiscuit is still providing us all with an inspirational diversion from today's distressing headlines!
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