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Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – March 26, 2002
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
Oh - and don't skip the interview with Laura Hillenbrand at the end of the book. It was very interesting to see how Ms. Hillenbrand's own background influenced her writing and how her research helped her to resurrect this intriguing epoch in American history.
I'm excited about the movie although I hope Universal Studios does this wonderful literary work justice!
You do not have to be a horse racing afficionado, nor a sports fan to absolutely love this story. It brings back the life and times of an unlikely group of people and animals in early 20th Century America in such a way that you will find yourself completely mesmerized as the events unfold. If you believe that "Truth can be stanger than fiction" you will understand that such were the details of these amazing characters that no fable could equal.
I ABSOLUTELY loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves tragedy and triumph as told by a master writer such as Laura Hillenbrand. It had me on the edge of my seat rooting and cheering as if I was actually witnessing the spectacular events that had so many Americans hypnotized during the height of the Great Depression.
I "cashed a WIN-ticket" when I bought and read "Seabiscuit"
Seabiscuit's story also depicts the reality that it isn't always easy to maintain values, loyalty and integrity in the face of opposition. Hillenbrand illustrates these qualities in Seabiscuit's owner, trainer and jockey extremely well. The three together, and individually, were able to maintain their values and shoot for success while always keeping Seabiscuit's welfare as the primary consideration.
I tried this book in large part because of the unanimous 5 star rating that readers had given it. While I'm not sure I would have agreed it was quite a 5 for Part One, by the time I got into Part Two, I didn't want it to end. I'd have given it higher than a 5 if I could have. It's the only book I can remember reading that had me crying at the end. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read. All I can say is, give it a try, I think you'll be glad you did.