Review of Seabiscuit

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 12 in my first 52 books challenge.
If you're wondering about no. 11, it was The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. I did not feel it was worth republishing.

Entry 1:

Full title: Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Year published: 2002
Where got: book store
Genre: History, biography, sports

This book is about a famous American racehorse and the men whose belief in him took him from the lowest rungs of the racing world and right to the top.

I am not particularly interested in sports, and know next to nothing about horse racing, so this is not a book I would have picked up if it had not been for the fact that it has been made into a film.

As a teenager I enjoyed a film about another famous racehorse, Phar Lap, and so when Seabiscuit hit the cinemas I decided this was a film I wanted to see.

Well, somehow I managed to miss it. However, after watching a National Geographic documentary about Seabiscuit, I decided I would read the book to tide me over until the film comes out on video. So far I have not been disappointed.

Entry 2:

It's rare to find a history book that is as readable as Seabiscuit. One history book I have already reviewed, Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world tries and fails, perhaps because the author simply isn't as accomplished a writer as Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit. Hillenbrand's writing seems effortless and she manages to hold the reader's attention throughout the book.

Of the two parts of the book, the second is the most gripping. In the first part Hillenbrand is introducing the people and animals involved in the story and laying out a description of American society in the first decades of the 20th century. This will at first seem somewhat longwinded, simply because of the wealth of information she has chosen to bring into the narrative.

In the second half of the book, which is mostly about the preparation for Seabiscuit's greatest race, it becomes clear that without all the information in the first half of the book, it would not have been as good a narrative. Her detailed descriptions of the racing practices of the era and the horrible situation of the jockeys (who had no union and hardly any human rights), of Seabiscuit's noble lineage and the character portraits and short biographies of Seabiscuit, owner Howard, trainer Smith and jockey Pollard before they came together, bring into the narrative a sense of continuity and a deeper understanding of what the race meant to these men and to the thousands of admirers of the "Cinderella horse".

There are some profoundly sad moments in the book (jockeys and horses being injured or dying), but also occasions for laughing out loud - especially in the description of Seabiscuit's appearance and habits and Smith's mischievous sense of humour and his war with the press.

Rating: Very well written biography of a horse and the men who believed in his abilities and made him a star among racehorses. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American history, sports or horses. 5 stars.


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