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Seabiscuit: An American Legend [Paperback]

Laura Hillenbrand
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (576 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 26 2002 Ballantine Reader's Circle
Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail. Three men changed Seabiscuit’s fortunes:

Charles Howard was a onetime bicycle repairman who introduced the automobile to the western United States and became an overnight millionaire. When he needed a trainer for his new racehorses, he hired Tom Smith, a mysterious mustang breaker from the Colorado plains. Smith urged Howard to buy Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price, then hired as his jockey Red Pollard, a failed boxer who was blind in one eye, half-crippled, and prone to quoting passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over four years, these unlikely partners survived a phenomenal run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and severe injury to transform Seabiscuit from a neurotic, pathologically indolent also-ran into an American sports icon.

Author Laura Hillenbrand brilliantly re-creates a universal underdog story, one that proves life is a horse race.


From the Hardcover edition.

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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 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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best read in a long time Feb. 16 2014
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
It feels like you're right there, living the action. Breathtaking!
Highly recommended for anyone who's into horses, horse racing, sports, etc.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Educational as well as entertaining. Jan. 2 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoy Hillenbrand's writing and research. Here she brings to light the life and determined attributes of man and animal in striving for a goal and their willingness to give their all for the achieving of the goal. The insight into the personal relationships forged between man and horse was exciting to read about and emotionally engaging for the reader.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Imagery Jumps Off the Page Feb. 3 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Reading "Seabiscuit" made it clear why it became such a successful film. The vividness of the imagery jumps right off the page. It made reading it almost like seeing a movie in my head, very similar to when I read "My Fractured Life" and "The Time Traveler's Wife" (except in this case "Seabiscuit" is already a film). Having not already seen the film, I cannot wait to see it based on the fantastic imagery the book has created in my head (although I can't imagine the film will match the full vividness of the book).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book July 16 2004
By Dan
Format:Paperback
I WASN'T interested in horses before, or horse racing, but I still really enjoyed this book. A real page turner, excellently written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful July 15 2004
Format:Paperback
I don't know anything about horseracing. I saw the movie, and then this book fell into my hands, and I began it wondering if it would live up to the hype. Of course, it did, and then some. Laura Hillenbrand is a wonderful writer, full of anecdotes and information about the '30s, the depression, and the world of horseracing in those days. The author spends a great deal of time (a quarter or a third of the book) setting the stage, but she does such a wonderful job that you don't mind. When she gets to the spot where things begin to take off, the book is frankly wonderful.
I won't tell you anything more about the book, other than to mention that Seabiscuit was the typical underdog (underhorse?) that Americans love to see win, and he didn't dissappoint. I enjoyed this book immensely, and would recommend it to anyone.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seabiscuit Dec 1 2003
Format:Paperback
The story of Seabiscuit is absolutely remarkable. Out of a nation in crisis rises an incredible symbol of hope and out of the depths of poverty rises a man with a passion. Red Pollard and Seabiscuit are an American legend. Though Laura Hillenbrand attacks this novel with great enthusiasm, she seems to lack a much-needed sense of emotion. She becomes too overwhelmed with the facts, failing to draw the reader into the characters' successes, failures, and disappointments. The novel becomes more of an encyclopedia than a living story. Nevertheless, the characters are well-developed, the challenges that jockeyes face are well described, and Seabiscuit's journey to fame is adaquately portrayed. Luara Hillenbrand brings a weak, but informative life to this American legend-- you can't help but be inspired!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh seabiscut July 14 2004
Format:Paperback
I love this book so much that I want to tell the whole world. Seabiscut I love you !!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first-rate read June 14 2004
Format:Paperback
Extremely well-written, great evocation of the times and the characters. The only flaws are minor: Hillenbrand sometimes uses a bit too much racing jargon without explanation, and I would love to have more photos.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Life Changing
"SEABISCUIT" is not so much a story about a horse, but rather a story about the lives of the men which that horse changes.
Red is an orphan of the depression. Read more
Published on June 17 2005 by Jackson Creast
5.0 out of 5 stars Flaws Make the Greatness
This isn't the story of a great racehorse or a great jockey. That would be pretty formula. This is the story of a mediocre at best racehorse and a fairly unqualified jockey who... Read more
Published on March 2 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful, Feel-Good Story of an American Champion
If you ever stand silently and look into a horse's handsome face, you see that they are intelligent, gentle creatures. Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by George Webster, Ph.D.,
5.0 out of 5 stars WHAT A TREAT
I am much enamored with the extraordinary number of historical efforts, both fictional and non-fictional, which have been published in the last year. Read more
Published on June 13 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Awesome
"Seabiscuit" is easily one of the most inspiring stories of the last century. Set against the backdrop of Depression 1930s America, a team of misfits (owner, trainer,... Read more
Published on June 9 2004 by J. S. Kaminski
5.0 out of 5 stars Seabiscuit, America and the Great Dream....
Hillenbrand has hit the track running with this marvelous book which is at once the biography of an unlikely athletic hero and a superb social/political overview of America just... Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by frfubar8
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