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Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son Paperback – March 24, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 Horse—the 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 drama—a book that is, in short, as remarkable as the finest horses it documents.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 Dodge
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780312423766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423766
  • ASIN: 0312423764
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Here's the long and short of it: John Jeremiah Sullivan, straight out of the gate with BLOOD HORSES, his first book, has written a masterpiece. Mixing conventional memoir, unconventional reportage, and a collage of historical source material about the history of the horse and the horse in history and literature, Sullivan braids apparantly disparate strands into a single narrative of power, delicacy, strangeness, and beauty. And as smart as this book is, as much reading and thinking as Sullivan slips into every page, there is never a moment when the enterprise has even a hint of pretention. This is a function of Sullivan's deep storytelling reserves, his elegant prose, his biting sense of humor (particularly about his own shortcomings), and his huge heart that, like Seabiscuit's own, is preturnaturally large. Sullivan's book is ultimately a moving tribute to his father-a failed poet, a respected sportswriter, and a man Sullivan lost too soon. Sullivan searches high and low for traces of him, a search that yields this book, one of the most moving and accomplished in recent memory, a book built to last.
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Format: Hardcover
I first came across the article gleaned from the pages of this book (or in preperation of...) in a 2003 Harper's Magazine, October, I think. Mr.Sullivan's walk through the bizarre intricacies of the horse racing world from all sides, including his most personal, were raw genius. He nonchalantly drew connections between more humble pedigrees (his own, for example - nothing remarkable except that it, too, is now published) and those of these rarified creatures (thoroughbreds) in a way I didn't even notice until half way through. What a respctful tribute to his father. It seemed to me a sort of a come from behind type of writing style that crystalized into a fine read somewhere in the middle, and then just got better. All the way to the very last sentance.
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By A Customer on April 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Somewhat in the discursive style of W.G. Sebald, the author of this wonderful book wanders easily from a discussion of the role of horses during the ice age to the lyrics of My Olde Kentucky Home, to the way that jockeys grasp their whips, taking in along the way a search for a lost pony and a visit to the Kentucky yearling sales. But this book is more than a ramble through horse country. Running like another theme thoughout are the author's memories, sometimes wildly funny, sometimes poignant, of his sportswriter father and the love that kept them apart. It is this apposition of the discursive and the intensely personal that gives the book its magic and makes John Jeremiah Sullivan a new author to applaud.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a breath-taking book. I picked it up at the library, thinking it was about race horses. It's not, really. But I'm buying for my own, anyway.
The horses are in there, with tales of Secretariat and War Emblem, horses carrying soldiers to war, hobby-horses, and the bond between humans and horses. But not in the way you expect.
This is a story about a sportswriter father, written by his son. But it's more than that. It's about being at the Keeneland yearling sale on September 10 and 11th 2001. It's about hearing his father's story of the 1973 Triple Crown races and the man as a boy sitting in the press box after a baseball game watching his father interact with his fellow newspapermen. It's about that moment in your life when you first see the human being, not the parent, and coming to terms with it. And a lot of other stuff that is hard to explain but makes perfect sense as you read it. It roams from Woodstock, to 1830's Germany, to the 1800's journal of a Kentucky itinerate well-digger, to the 2003 Belmont Stakes and ends in a way that is a perfect tribute in so many ways you have to have read it for me to explain it.
The last time I was so taken by a book was John Irving's The World According to Garp. But this is real life, and it tastes of it. Buy it if you are interested in horses - or in humans. Or in both.
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Format: Hardcover
After hearing the author read at a book signing at our local bookstore, I went home and started the book. I could not put it down! A beautifully written, powerful book written with scholarship, conviction and courage. If you have not found this book yet, you must! It is an exceptional read!
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By A Customer on April 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is amazing. It is deeply informative on the history and beauty of horseracing, all the while weaving an intricate web of storytelling between seemingly different topics. In the author's personal memories of his youth and time with his father, he has the readers on the brink of sobbing aloud - just as he lets loose with a quick quip that leaves them laughing on the floor. Similarly, readers will find themselves laughing, just as the tears began to fall. Sullivan's got a true talent of weaving words in a comfortable, eloquent manner so prevalent in great southern literature. He has the mastery of storytelling like John Grisham with the self-depracating southern humor of Rick Bragg. I am looking forward to his next works.
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Format: Paperback
This magnificent book is a subtle tribute to the author's father. Apparently, subtlety is lost on some of the philistines who posted reviews below - so let me help. If you want a book all about horsies - this is not it. If you want a series of reflections written in the "new journalism" style of Tom Wolfe and arranged around a journalist's coverage of the Kentucky Derby, "Blood Horses" will draw you in and astonish you time and time again. Sullivan is a genius, his elegiac and moving work will last, and we will hear more from him.
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