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Seabiscuit: An American Legend [Bargain Price] [Paperback]

Laura Hillenbrand
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,070 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This well-written and compelling book celebrates the life of a racehorse that just happened to be a descendant of Man O' War. It is a story of a huge talent that almost went unrecognized until the right people came along. According to descriptions, Seabiscuit was a runt, with stubby legs, an odd walk, and a lazy nature. However, he became so popular that he drew more news coverage than President Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. The atmosphere surrounding his historic match with War Admiral was so intense that FDR kept advisors waiting as he listened with the rest of the country to hear the outcome. Hillenbrand also tells the stories of owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard and the part each man played in the recognition and development of a racing legend. But the book is much more. Seabiscuit is a story of the times and it is a story of the hard and dangerous life of a jockey. Even readers with no interest in the sport will be hooked with the opening sentence of the book's preface. Hillenbrand does a wonderful job in bringing an unlikely winner to life.

Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A veteran thoroughbred-racing writer whose stories have appeared in American Heritage, Talk, and other magazines, Hillenbrand here takes readers on a thrilling ride through 341 pages on the back of champion thoroughbred Seabiscuit. This is a Cinderella story in which four creatures, united for a brief period of time (1936-47), spark the imagination of an entire country. Hillenbrand combines the horse's biography with a social history of 1930s and 1940s America and incisive portraits of the team around Seabiscuit. Charlie Howard, a car dealer, bought the crooked-legged, scruffy little horse; Tom Smith, a man who rarely spoke to people but who communicated perfectly with horses, became its trainer; and Red Pollard, a half-blind jockey, rode Seabiscuit to fame. Hillenbrand's extensive research compares favorably with that of Alexander MacKay-Smith's in Speed and the Thoroughbred (Derrydale, 2000). This story of trust, optimism, and perseverance in overcoming obstacles will appeal to many readers. Highly recommended.
- Patsy E. Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Horse stories are staples of young-adult fiction. Hillenbrand, a veteran equestrian writer, attempts something quite different: a full-length biography of the Thoroughbred Seabiscuit, a California racehorse who became one of the sporting world's biggest celebrities in the late thirties. Because her subject left behind few interesting interviews, the author fills out her portrait with people who helped guide Seabiscuit to glory: his owner, Charles Howard; his trainer, Tom Smith; and a hard-luck jockey named Red Pollard. While fans waited for a horse-to-horse showdown with War Admiral, the darling of the Eastern racing establishment, Seabiscuit set several records and battled various injuries. Unfortunately, many of the races are recounted in breathless, melodramatic prose. Far more interesting are the sections that detail the gruelling, hazardous life of a jockey; Pollard, a failed prizefighter with a taste for literature, emerges as the story's true hero.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

There have been numerous biographies of famous horses, but this one is the best by open lengths, partly because Hillenbrand expands the scope of her project to include owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard, whose boom-and-bust and boom-again careers are fascinating in themselves. But Seabiscuit's rags-to-riches story is unparalleled in a sport known for its longshots. A nondescript little bay, Seabiscuit ran 50 races without distinction on the lowest rungs of racing's class ladder before dominating the sport in the late 1930s, when he reached a level of popularity that is utterly inconceivable today. Hillenbrand's detailed and dramatic re-creation of Seabiscuit's life and times is a remarkable testament to what four years of meticulous research and a writer's gift for storytelling can accomplish. And it's mighty good reading, even if you're not a racing fan. Dennis Dodge
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Gifted sportswriter Hillenbrand unearths the rarefied world of thoroughbred horse racing in this captivating account of one of the sport's legends."
-- Publisher's Weekly (starred review) (Publisher's Weekly ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Praise for Seabiscut

“A captivating story . . . with the detail of good history, the blistering pace of Biscuit himself and the charm of grand legend.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Remarkable . . . memorable . . . just as compelling today as it was in 1938.”
The Washington Post

“Dazzling . . . [Seabiscuit] does for the world of horse racing what Into Thin Air did for mountain climbing. . . . In daredevil prose that sprints along at a breakneck pace, Hillenbrand tells the incredible tale of Seabiscuit. . . . Like a brilliant jockey, Hillenbrand suspensefully manages her champion of a story. In the final stretch, it hurtles towards its climax.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR

“It’s a terrific story, but it’s more than just a horse’s tale, because the humans who owned, trained and rode Seabiscuit are equally fascinating. . . . Even if your interest in horses goes no further than hansom cabs, you’ll find this book engrossing.”
Sports Illustrated

“Terrific . . . Illuminating a forgotten piece of American history, Seabiscuit brings alive the drama, the beauty, the louche charm and the brutality of horse racing.”
USA Today

“Good sports books are few and far between, good books on racing even more so. So it is hugely refreshing when one as fine as this one comes along. The research is meticulous, the writing elegant and concise, so that every page transports you back to the period. . . . This is a remarkable tale well told by a writer who deftly blends history and sport. Seabiscuit should capture a new generation of readers beyond the world of horse racing.”
The Economist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

A deluxe illustrated edition of one of the most beloved books of our time, with nearly 150 historic photographs personally selected by the author

The spellbinding true story of how three men and a great racehorse captivated a nation, Laura Hillenbrand?s Seabiscuit: An American Legend became an immediate number one bestseller and cultural phenomenon upon its publication in 2001. Named one of the best books of the year by more than twenty publications?including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, People, USA Today, and The Economist?Seabiscuit was also honored as the BookSense Nonfiction Book of the Year and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, and was a finalist for several other major prizes, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

For this lavishly illustrated special edition, author Laura Hillenbrand has written a new Introduction and selected nearly 150 rare photographs from historic archives and private collections. Seabiscuit tells the story of three remarkable men: Charles Howard, a bicycle repairman who made a fortune by introducing the automobile to the American West; Red Pollard, a failed prizefighter and failing jockey who was abandoned as a boy at a makeshift racetrack; and Tom Smith, an enigmatic mustang breaker who came from the vanishing frontier, bearing generations of lost wisdom about the secrets of horses.

In the sultry summer of 1936, the lives of these men converged around a bad-legged, floundering racehorse named Seabiscuit. Forming an improbable partnership, they transformed the horse into one of the most extraordinary competitors in sports history. In four tumultuous years, the rags-to-riches horse overcame a phenomenal run of misfortune to emerge as an American cultural icon, drawing an immense following, prompting an avalanche of merchandising, and establishing himself as the single biggest newsmaker of 1938?receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or any other public figure.

Seabiscuit is an inspiring tale of unlikely heroes, a classic story of three embattled individuals and a remarkable racehorse overcoming the odds in the Great Depression. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

Praise for Seabiscut

“A captivating story . . . with the detail of good history, the blistering pace of Biscuit himself and the charm of grand legend.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Remarkable . . . memorable . . . just as compelling today as it was in 1938.”
The Washington Post

“Dazzling . . . [Seabiscuit] does for the world of horse racing what Into Thin Air did for mountain climbing. . . . In daredevil prose that sprints along at a breakneck pace, Hillenbrand tells the incredible tale of Seabiscuit. . . . Like a brilliant jockey, Hillenbrand suspensefully manages her champion of a story. In the final stretch, it hurtles towards its climax.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR

“It’s a terrific story, but it’s more than just a horse’s tale, because the humans who owned, trained and rode Seabiscuit are equally fascinating. . . . Even if your interest in horses goes no further than hansom cabs, you’ll find this book engrossing.”
Sports Illustrated

“Terrific . . . Illuminating a forgotten piece of American history, Seabiscuit brings alive the drama, the beauty, the louche charm and the brutality of horse racing.”
USA Today

“Good sports books are few and far between, good books on racing even more so. So it is hugely refreshing when one as fine as this one comes along. The research is meticulous, the writing elegant and concise, so that every page transports you back to the period. . . . This is a remarkable tale well told by a writer who deftly blends history and sport. Seabiscuit should capture a new generation of readers beyond the world of horse racing.”
The Economist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Laura Hillenbrand has been writing about Thoroughbred racing since 1988 and has been a contributing writer/editor for Equus magazine since 1989. Her work has also appeared in American Heritage, ABC Sports Online, The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, The Backstretch, Turf and Sport Digest and many other publications. Her 1998 American Heritage article on Seabiscuit won the Eclipse Award for Magazine Writing, the highest award for Thoroughbred racing. She is currently serving as a consultant on a Universal Studios movie based on this book. Born in Fairfax, Virginia, Laura lives in Washington, D.C. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From The Washington Post

"As good a book on thoroughbred racing as I have ever read....often poetic." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

THE DAY OF THE HORSE IS PAST

Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. He would sweep into a room, working a cigarette in his fingers, and people would trail him like pilot fish. They couldn’t help themselves. Fifty-eight years old in 1935, Howard was a tall, glowing man in a big suit and a very big Buick. But it wasn’t his physical bearing that did it. He lived on a California ranch so huge that a man could take a wrong turn on it and be lost forever, but it wasn’t his circumstances either. Nor was it that he spoke loud or long; the surprise of the man was his understatement, the quiet and kindly intimacy of his acquaintance. What drew people to him was something intangible, an air about him. There was a certain inevitability to Charles Howard, an urgency radiating from him that made people believe that the world was always going to bend to his wishes.

On an afternoon in 1903, long before the big cars and the ranch and all
the money, Howard began his adulthood with only that air of destiny and
21 cents in his pocket. He sat in the swaying belly of a transcontinental
train, snaking west from New York. He was twenty-six, handsome, gentle-manly, with a bounding imagination. Back then he had a lot more hair than
anyone who knew him later would have guessed. Years in the saddles of
military-school horses had taught him to carry his six-foot-one-inch frame
straight up.

He was eastern born and bred, but he had a westerner’s restlessness.
He had tried to satisfy it by enlisting in the cavalry for the Spanish-American War, and though he became a skilled horseman, thanks to bad
timing and dysentery he never got out of Camp Wheeler in Alabama. After
his discharge, he got a job in New York as a bicycle mechanic, took up
competitive bicycle racing, got married, and had two sons. It seems to have been a good life, but the East stifled Howard. His mind never seemed to
settle down. His ambitions had fixed upon the vast new America on the
other side of the Rockies. That day in 1903 he couldn’t resist the impulse
anymore. He left everything he’d ever known behind, promised his wife
Fannie May he’d send for her soon, and got on the train.

He got off in San Francisco. His two dimes and a penny couldn’t carry
him far, but somehow he begged and borrowed enough money to open a
little bicycle-repair shop on Van Ness Avenue downtown. He tinkered
with the bikes and waited for something interesting to come his way.

It came in the form of a string of distressed-looking men who began appearing at his door. Eccentric souls with too much money in their pockets
and far too much time on their hands, they had blown thick wads of cash
on preposterous machines called automobiles. Some of them were feeling
terribly sorry about it.

The horseless carriage was just arriving in San Francisco, and its debut
was turning into one of those colorfully unmitigated disasters that bring
misery to everyone but historians. Consumers were staying away from the
“devilish contraptions” in droves. The men who had invested in them
were the subjects of cautionary tales, derision, and a fair measure of public loathing. In San Francisco in 1903, the horse and buggy was not going the
way of the horse and buggy.

For good reason. The automobile, so sleekly efficient on paper, was in
practice a civic menace, belching out exhaust, kicking up storms of dust,
becoming hopelessly mired in the most innocuous-looking puddles, tying
up horse traffic, and raising an earsplitting cacophony that sent buggy
horses fleeing. Incensed local lawmakers responded with monuments to
legislative creativity. The laws of at least one town required automobile
drivers to stop, get out, and fire off Roman candles every time horse-drawn vehicles came into view. Massachusetts tried and, fortunately, failed to
mandate that cars be equipped with bells that would ring with each revo-
lution of the wheels. In some towns police were authorized to disable passing cars with ropes, chains, wires, and even bullets, so long as they took
reasonable care to avoid gunning down the drivers. San Francisco didn’t
escape the legislative wave. Bitter local officials pushed through an ordinance banning automobiles from the Stanford campus and all tourist
areas, effectively exiling them from the city.

Nor were these the only obstacles. The asking price for the cheapest
automobile amounted to twice the $500 annual salary of the average citizen— some cost three times that much—and all that bought you was four
wheels, a body, and an engine. “Accessories” like bumpers, carburetors,
and headlights had to be purchased separately. Just starting the thing,
through hand cranking, could land a man in traction. With no gas stations,
owners had to lug five-gallon fuel cans to local drugstores, filling them for
60 cents a gallon and hoping the pharmacist wouldn’t substitute benzene
for gasoline. Doctors warned women away from automobiles, fearing slow
suffocation in noxious fumes. A few adventurous members of the gentler
sex took to wearing ridiculous “windshield hats,” watermelon-sized fabric
balloons, equipped with little glass windows, that fit over the entire head,
leaving ample room for corpulent Victorian coiffures. Navigation was another nightmare. The first of San Francisco’s road signs were only just
being erected, hammered up by an enterprising insurance underwriter
who hoped to win clients by posting directions into the countryside,
whose drivers retreated for automobile “picnic parties” held out of the
view of angry townsfolk.

Finally, driving itself was something of a touch-and-go pursuit. The
first automobiles imported to San Francisco had so little power that they
rarely made it up the hills. The grade of Nineteenth Avenue was so daunting for the engines of the day that watching automobiles straining for the
top became a local pastime. The automobiles’ delicate constitutions and
general faintheartedness soon became a source of scorn. One cartoon from the era depicted a wealthy couple standing on a roadside next to its dearly
departed vehicle. The caption read, “The Idle Rich.”

Where San Franciscans saw an urban nuisance, Charles Howard saw
opportunity. Automobile-repair shops hadn’t been created yet—and
would have made little sense anyway as few were fool enough to buy a car.
Owners had no place to go when their cars expired. A bicycle repairman
was the closest thing to an auto mechanic available, and Howard’s shop
was conveniently close to the neighborhoods of wealthy car owners.
Howard hadn’t been in town long before the owners began showing up on
his doorstep.

Howard had a weakness for lost causes. He accepted the challenge,
poked around in the cars, and figured out how to fix them. Soon he was
showing up at the primitive automobile races held around the city. Before
long, he was driving in them. The first American race, run around
Evanston, Illinois, had been held only eight years before, with the winning
car ripping along at the dizzying average speed of seven and a half miles
per hour. But by 1903, automotive horsepower had greatly improved—
one car averaged 65.3 mph in a cross-European race that season—making
the races a good spectacle. It also made for astronomical casualty rates.
The European race, for one, turned into such a godawful bloodletting that
it was ultimately halted due to “too many fatalities.”

Howard was beginning to see these contraptions as the instrument of
his ambition. Taking an audacious step, he booked a train east, got off in
Detroit, and somehow talked his way into a meeting with Will Durant,
chief of Buick Automobiles and future founder of General Motors.
Howard told Durant that he wanted to be a part of the industry, troubled
though it was. Durant liked what he saw and hired him to set up dealerships
and recruit dealers. Howard returned to San Francisco, opened the
Pioneer Motor Company on Buick’s behalf, and hired a local man to manage
it. But on a checkup visit, he was dismayed to find that the manager
was focusing his sales effort not on Buicks but on ponderous Thomas Flyers. Howard went back to Detroit and told Durant that he could do better.
Durant was sold. Howard walked away with the Buick franchise for all of
San Francisco. It was 1905, and he was just twenty-eight years old.

Howard returned to San Francisco by train with three Buicks in tow.
By some accounts, he first housed his automobiles in the parlor of his old
bicycle-repair shop on Van Ness Avenue before moving to a modest building
on Golden Gate Avenue, half a block from Van Ness. He brought Fannie
May out to join him. With two young boys to feed, and two more soon
to follow, Fannie May must have been alarmed by her husband’s career
choice. Two years had done little to pacify the San Franciscan hostility for
the automobile. Howard failed to sell a single car.


From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From AudioFile

In 1938, FDR was warring against the Depression, and Hitler was spoiling for a war of his own, but the biggest story in America was a race horse named Seabiscuit. This painstakingly researched, brilliantly written history jolts the listener right back to the days when the Santa Anita Handicap had a purse of $100,000 and the average per capita income in America was $432. Hillenbrand shows how an undersized horse with knees that didn't straighten all the way came to carry the hopes of every underdog in a nation that was still nearly wall-to-wall underdogs. Campbell Scott never overplays a line, never misses a pause, never fails to punch an ending. This is a treat for the ear, an education for the mind, and a meal for the soul. B.H.C. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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