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Seabiscuit: An American Legend [Paperback]

Laura Hillenbrand
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (581 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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Seabiscuit: An American Legend + Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
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From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful July 15 2004
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 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seabiscuit is my hero here in 2004! May 7 2004
By A Customer
It took me a while to get thru the first part because the author writes about the history of the owner and the jockey. It got interesting when I got to the middle of the book. The book is full of old photos of Seabiscuit and some of his races. I actually cried during some of the sad parts. I just wished I was there back in the 30's so I could really see Seabiscuit in a race. I was never a horse lover, but after reading this book I realized what a great horse Seabiscuit was and what a true American hero he was for people back then. I'm glad Laura Hillenbrand wrote this book so Seabiscuit would not be forgotten.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story April 19 2004
By A Customer
Seabiscuit is a great book. I really enjoyed it. This book is about a little horse who nobody thought could be a winnner, until someone took a chance with him. A man named Charles Howard bought Seabiscuit and got a trainer named Tom Smith and a jockey named Red Polard or Johnny. Seabiscuit started winning races and people loved him because he was small and tried so hard to win and he always did. Even when Seabiscuit was old and couldn't race anymore Mr. Howard kept him and took care of him on his property. It's a really good book, but it's hard for younger people to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars WHAT A TREAT June 13 2004
By A Customer
I am much enamored with the extraordinary number of historical efforts, both fictional and non-fictional, which have been published in the last year. This book is a revelation: Ms. Hillenbrand works things into this story that make your jaw drop. The chapter on a starving jockey hallucinating because of his hunger is extraordinary. Her observations are as good as any novelist's: "Charles Howard was like a great charging locomotive, you either climb on board or moved out of the way."
She managed to make a horse more interesting than most writers could make a human being. There are some other extraodinary historical efforts: if you have not read Eric Larson's Isaac's Storm, about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, or Devil In A White City, in which Larson alternates chapters between Daniel Burnham and celebrities like Thomas Edison at the 1893 World's Fair and a deranged serial killer who stalked the Fair Grounds, you are missing two masterpieces. And on the fiction side, a book that has gotten no attention from any critics but is quickly becoming the darling of readers, 1906, an extraordinary tale of the great San Francisco Earthquake by James Dalessandro, is not to be missed. Any reader will love how the Italian singer Enrico Caruso steals the show in 1906. Kudos to all of them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Awesome June 9 2004
Format:Audio Cassette
"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, jockeys and horse) come together to forge a winning team that few could have foreseen.
Each had his own obstacles - the jockey's blind eye, the trainer's unorthodox methods, the owner's western roots - and that's not even mentioning the horse. Seabiscuit had even bigger problems. He didn't look like a champion, for starters. And he was raced far too much as a 2-year old, which stunted his progress and made him appear to be a joke to much of the racing establishment.
But once these men began to work with Seabiscuit, it was not long before his true promise came to be realized. Seabiscuit won numerous races, set many track records, and retired as the leading money winner of his time. Not bad for an "also-ran!"
Hillenbrand tells Seabiscuit's story while also managing to give many details about "big picture" stories as well - e.g., life in 1930s America, the trials and tribulations of jockeys, the up-and-down popularity of the sport of horse racing. Telling all of these while keeping the reader not only interested but riveted, Hillenbrand has written an exceptional book.
I did not know the story of Seabiscuit before this book came along; now, I will never forget it! His is one of the great "underdog" stories of all time.
Five stars. Absolutely fantastic!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Seabiscuit, What A Guy!!!! May 25 2004
This book is one of the best I've ever read, and I am an avid reader. Laura Hillenbrand brings the story of the Depression era horse Seabiscuit to life in this fascinating narriative that is full of fascinating historical information about the sport of horse racing.
Her discription of the brutal existance of jockeys is riviting, not just about the punishing regimens followed to "make weight", but also the callous disregard of the jockeys as human beings. I will never forget her discription of the 17 year old jockey, who was crushed in one of the primitive starting gates and left was left to die in agony on a table unattended.
Hillenbrand is a master of descriptive pharasing and her writing can be very lyrical, which I liked. When she describes Seabiscuit biting down on his bit before a big push, I felt like I was riding Seabiscuit myself!
Her descriptions of Seabiscuit's personality really brought him to life for me as well.
You don't have to know anything about horse racing to enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars You race through this wonderful story just like the Biscuit in the...
Spellbinding! You race through this wonderful story just like the Biscuit in the stretch. Wonderful!
Published 8 days ago by paul rothwell
5.0 out of 5 stars make you a fan of horse racing
all the parts that make up the story that is Seabiscuit woven together brilliantly.... It's a hard book to put down and you'll be sorry to reach the end.
Published 17 days ago by kim winters
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good read. Very informative and well written
A really good read. Very informative and well written.
Published 21 days ago by walter lazary
5.0 out of 5 stars Feel good read; uplifting story of underdogs who triumphed
We all need reminders of how it is possible to overcome seemingly impossible challenges to reveal inherent greatness. Read more
Published 27 days ago by NPon
5.0 out of 5 stars such an amazing story of legend horse-trainer-owner-jockey
I got this book well packed and shipped two weeks ago,,and I already felt completly lost my self in reading this book often in this two weeks. Read more
Published 1 month ago by bhavesh
5.0 out of 5 stars Best read in a long time
It feels like you're right there, living the action. Breathtaking!
Highly recommended for anyone who's into horses, horse racing, sports, etc.
Published 8 months ago by Caroline F
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational as well as entertaining.
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... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Nila Ipson
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 Imagery Jumps Off the Page
Reading "Seabiscuit" made it clear why it became such a successful film. The vividness of the imagery jumps right off the page. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2005 by Angie Clusterman
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