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For Your Reading Pleasure: Seabiscuit - An American Legend

Updated on November 11, 2014

A Symbol of Hope for the Nation

In 1940, battered and bruised by The Great Depression, the United States was on the mend. We had come through the worst of the economic lows and had yet to be drawn into the European war. While not at full strength, we had endured.

At the same time, on a small farm in California, a horse named Seabiscuit and his jockey, John "Red" Pollard, were also recovering. Together, Pollard and Seabiscuit had chalked up several major triumphs on the racetrack, but by 1940 had fallen on hard times. The horse had ruptured a ligament in his front leg, usually a career-ending injury. Pollard had survived a nearly fatal fall from a different horse after which he met with a series of additional accidents which left him nearly crippled.

Still, the two warriors believed they had one more conquest in them -- and the country was rooting for them. To the American public, Seabiscuit and his jockey Pollard represented all that the U.S. had suffered -- but they also symbolized the opportunity for a much-desired comeback.

Author Laura Hillenbrand captures the heart behind the celebrated icon in her elegant biography, Seabiscuit - An American Legend.

What It's About - An entertaining, non-fiction narrative that reads like a novel

Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Ballantine Reader's Circle)

Despite his royal lineage (grandson of the great horse racing legend Man o' War), Seabiscuit was undersized, knobby-kneed and essentially lazy. He'd been handled by some of the greatest trainers of the time, to little avail - the horse seemed more interested in sleeping and eating than in running. This lackluster attitude kept him in smaller races where his schedule was grueling and his wins occasional. He managed to set a track record in one race, but overall, he was unremarkable.

Unremarkable, that is, until he was sold to a California entrepreneur named Charles A. Howard and given over to an uncommunicative and unorthodox trainer, Tom Smith. With the addition of a relatively tall (by jockey standards) Canadian rider named Red Pollard (who would be his partner through most races from that time forward), the horse's new team was complete. Against the odds, this unique triumvirate championed the cause and transformation of Seabiscuit from racing joke to one of the most famous horses in history.

Laura Hillenbrand's book Seabiscuit - An American Legend skillfully chronicles the journey.

 
Photo of Seabiscuit monument from Iconstatues.com - click for complete attibution
Photo of Seabiscuit monument from Iconstatues.com - click for complete attibution

What Makes It A Good Story

Even if you don't know much about horses or have never been to a racetrack, Seabiscuit - An American Legend is fascinating history. The horse himself is an unlikely racer; his owner is a neophyte among the blue-bloods of the East Coast 's horse set; the trainer is a near recluse; and the jockey a man in need of a break. Together, this mis-matched quartet stomps on the pride and prejudices of the racing world to win accolades and hearts.

Details of the competitions, the social and economic realities of the age, horse-training techniques, and jockey "discipline" are woven seamlessly into the story of four misfits who use their collective skills and talents to sprint into the history books in a big way. With tenacity and respect for their teammates - human and horse - four disparate beings accomplish what few dream of. The underdog prevails in a way that is irresistible.

Race at Smoke Hollow - click for more complete attribution
Race at Smoke Hollow - click for more complete attribution

What Makes It A 5-Star Read

Where other biographies are often dry and bereft of emotion, Hillenbrand imbues Seabiscuit - An American Legend with heart, cultural details, and social context both rich and satisfying. She describes the main players, including the horses, in terms worthy of a great novel without resorting to caricature or conjecture.

Seabiscuit - An American Legend is history told with the seamless ease of a good novel. The three men and the horse who comprise the core of this work are true-to-life as they come to life in Hillenbrand's capable hands. You will find yourself rooting for them all.

Pimlico Special

In the book, much is made of the match between the gorgeous thoroughbred, War Horse, and the awkward (and much smaller) Seabiscuit. Watch this video of the actual 1938 race between the two rivals and cheer on your favorite!

Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit

This documentary is a perfect companion to Ms. Hillenbrand's book.

 

Have you read "Seabiscuit" - ...and, if so, what did you think?

Photo by John Huba from author's website
Photo by John Huba from author's website

Have you read "Seabiscuit"

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    • profile image

      tonyleather 3 years ago

      Excellent book made into an equally impressive movie!

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 4 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: I was so impressed that the horse was so much a character of this book. I do hope you like it.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      I really must read this book. I love stories of misfits who defy the odds. Excellent review.

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 4 years ago

      @JenwithMisty: Thank you. I appreciate your stopping by.

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 4 years ago

      I enjoyed watching the video. It was a nice addition. Thanks for your great review.

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 4 years ago

      @TanoCalvenoa: When true stories are well written, like a novel, that is even more pleasurable. This one was that way.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      Loved the book, very well-written. I prefer to read true stories over totally-made-up stories.

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you - I hope you enjoy the read when you get to it!

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 5 years ago

      @Jo-Jackson: The movie was good, especially the racing scenes. One advantage of the book was its highlight of the horse's spirit and impishness...it's worth the read! Thank you for stopping by.

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 5 years ago

      @Anna2of5: Thank you for the kindly welcome and wishes.

    • profile image

      Anna2of5 5 years ago

      I like the photo you use to represent yourself. I knew about the story, but haven't read it yet.

      Good Luck today, and welcome to Squidoo.

      Sincerely, Anna2of5

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your review of this book.

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 5 years ago

      I haven't read the book but I loved the movie. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Seabiscuit is on my list and I expect to get to it in 2013. Outstanding review and lens.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 5 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Interesting lens on a great legend.

    • dbitterman profile image
      Author

      dbitterman 5 years ago

      @PlethoraReader: I have too many books on my "to be read" list, too, and usually need some impending event or a good review to move them to the forefront. When you finally get to it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    • PlethoraReader profile image

      Matthew 5 years ago from Silicon Valley

      I actually have this book on my shelf waiting to be read, will need to move it toward the front of the list. Thank you for sharing!