on 14 May 2003
Quite simply this is the best sports related book I have ever had the pleasure to pick up. The level of research required for a book where the major players are now deceased could easily leave the impression that the author has poetic licence to write whatever they want. This is never the case with this masterpiece.
I had never heard of Seabiscuit despite him being an American legend, but my interest was raised after by chance reading a small review in a Sunday paper. The portrayal of Red Pollard, a one eyed jockey of limited ability struggling to come to terms with numerous personal demons, and the horses trainer Tom Smith, a misunderstood genius, is breathtaking. The prose is such that this is impossible to put down. I found myself willing SeaBiscuit on in his battle with War Admiral and even now find myself running over my images of this race at sometime innoportune moments such is the fantastic way the author conveys this equine battle in print.
Basically if you are reading this just click on the buy button, wait for the postman to deliver, lend the television to a neighbour (you won't be needing it) and feast on this incredible sporting odyssey.
on 2 December 2003
As a child horseracing always struck me as a matter of terminal boredom, particularly on rainy Saturday afternoons when the TV seemed to be dedicated to solely that sport... Not surprisingly, I ventured into Seabiscuit with some trepidation and without having seen the film! The result was a massive surprise!
Seabiscuit is a story of grit, courage and character and written by an author who knows that it's going to be tough reading a couple of hundred pages about races on various racecourses in the US. However, somehow the book moves along at quite a pace - at times exciting, at times informative and at times just descriptive, but all the way through you get the feeling of expectation building up. There is a palpable excitement as Seabiscuit heads for the greatest race of his life despite the difficulties that surround him, his trainer and his jockeys. This deserves to be read even if you don't much go for horseracing.
on 9 May 2002
This book is a runaway best-seller in the U.S., and deservedly so. People who have no interest in horses, racing, or history have enjoyed it and have given it the highest rating. It WILL be made into a movie, so read it now for the true story - who knows what Hollywood will do to it?
The Great Depression of the 1930s had a devastating effect on the U.S., lasting from 1930 to 1940. (Elderly people today who lived through it still hoard mundane items like string etc. for fear of having to live through another economic depression.) Seabiscuit was a Cinderella story that inspired millions of Americans and helped them hope for a brighter future free of bread lines, soup kitchens, rampant unemployment, and government giveaways of basic necessities like shoes. (My mother stood in line to get shoes for my grandfather, who was too ashamed - or proud - or both - to go himself.) Even into the 1950s, when I was a child, Seabiscuit's name was invoked when you wanted something to go faster ("Come on, Seabiscuit!").
The horse, the owner, the trainer, the jockeys - all were wonderful characters that you won't soon forget. A professional book reviewer for National Public Radio named this the best book of 2001. I hope you will enjoy it too.
on 10 December 2003
Seabiscuit is the touching story of three miss-fits inspiring the US nation during the depression. A wonky horse, trainer and hard luck jockey team together to win some of the most prestigious races on the US circuit and in doing so rally the spirits of the American public in a way reminiscent of the England Rugby World Cup frenzy.
The characters are superbly crafted and you feel an empathy with them as their lives unfold before you. There is a very strong need to know what happens next when reading the book.
It is a fabulous story showing that even during the hard times the love of family, friends and good old fashioned hard work can turn your luck around.
on 25 July 2003
If you love horses and have even a little bit of interest in racing this book is one you will thoroughly enjoy.
You feel like you are living all the hopes and fears of the characters, and when the races are on, you find you just cant read fast enough to keep up with The Biscuit! - you certainly cant put the book down mid race!
- I hope the film is true to the book, - cant wait to see it.
. Buy this book - you'll love it!
on 30 November 2002
It's hard to determine the true hero of this book. Is it the taciturn trainer, Tom Smith, who took a colt the world's leading trainer (the still-revered Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons) couldn't truly fathom and turn the reject into a champion racehorse? Is it Charles Howard, the car salesman turned millionaire who devoted so much of his time, money and energy to his beloved horse, never second-guessing his trainer and remaining ever steadfast in every adversity, including the death of his son? Is it Seabiscuit himself, the reluctant claimer who went on to a superstardom that matched or superseded anything later achieved by Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods? Perhaps it is Johnny (Red) Pollard, the jockey who emerged from depths about as low as any human being can go to the winner's circle in America's most prestigious races? All of these would be strong candidates, but my Eclipse Award goes to Laura Hillenbrand, for rising up out of her sickbed often enough and long enough to accomplish something just as miraculous as the feats that Seabiscuit and team pulled off.
Take it from someone who spent six years of his life as an observer and worker at backstretches all around the US. I have held jobs from hot walker to trainer, at venues such as Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Bowie, The Fairgrounds, Monmouth Park, etc. I also had a chance to observe some excellent horsemen for whom I worked, including Frank Whitely, Elliot Burch, Woody Stephens, and others. I had the pleasure to meet and talk with Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the characters in this story, as he was an owner of one of the trainers for whom I groomed horses. I've seen most of what the backstretch has to offer, from the lowliest stable-hand at a rickety bullring track in New Mexico, to the richest owner in the world purchasing horses at the Keeneland Yearling Sale. So perhaps I feel myself qualified, though it is hardly necessary, to say that Laura Hillenbrand has written the book I wish I had had the talent and fortitude to write. Her book, more than any other I have ever read, captures life on the backstretch as it is, was, and ever shall be. She has gotten to the essence of horse-racing, capturing perfectly the allure, the dreams, the utter exhilaration and despair that unfolds day in and day out behind the scenes at racetracks the world over. She has done this despite severe physical infirmities that would have stopped us lesser humans in our tracks. Reading this book left me feeling as though I had just won the pick-four at Hollywood Park. Hats off and thrown high into the air to Laura Hillenbrand for an accomplishment that will be next to impossible to ever match.
on 4 March 2005
Selecting a book purely on hype is something I don't, as a rule, do. However, if I was relying on a description of Seabiscuit alone, I don't think I would ever have bought it. Horse-racing would not be a subject matter to excite me; before reading Seabiscuit, I had never heard of the horse, its jockey, its owner or its trainer. I don't even have a particular interest in the time the story is set - pre-WW2 USA.
With the book read, I can tell you that from the opening words, right to the end, I was fascinated. It is a wonderful tale of sport, emotions, commitment, survival and the human spirit. The overriding achievement of Laura Hillebrand in this book is to take a subject in which a reader has no interest, and yet write a tale that fascinates him. In a strange way, I do not ever want to see the movie 'Seabiscuit' - I feel the book is so well written that it could only be spoiled by a movie.
Although I am a huge horse racing fan, I ignored this book for a long time, but I realised that it must be good when somebody with no interest in the sport told me what a fantastic book it is. And so it proved.
Seabiscuit, a temperamental horse, began his career with the top trainer of the day. Despite sensing that Seabiscuit had talent, that trainer was unable to get him to do much and his owner sold him cheaply. His new owner moved him to a small stable where the trainer was able to get to know the horse intimately.
The new owner, trainer and jockey are all interesting characters and the book goes into a fair amount of detail about them. The owner was an extrovert type who originally made his money selling automobiles in San Francisco in the years following the 1906 earthquake. By contrast, the trainer was an introvert who had worked with horses all his life but had little experience of horse racing. The jockey had been very successful but it was thought his best days were behind him, as dieting and heavy drinking took their toll, and continued to do so. Another jockey often had to substitute for him.
Under the new regime, Seabiscuit enjoyed himself and eventually emerged as California's champion. However, in those days the best American racing was on the east coast and their champion was War Admiral. The public demanded a match but a combination of injuries to Seabiscuit, personality clashes and bad weather (Seabiscuit did not like running in rain-softened ground) meant that the match did not happen for a log time. It was certainly worth waiting for when it did.
The book continues to end of Seabiscuit's racing career, when he finally wins the race his owner wanted him to win, and also includes an epilogue telling us what happened to the main characters afterwards.
This is a fascinating story about overcoming adversity. Horse racing is full of such stories - some of you may remember the story of Bob Champion and Aldaniti, which was made into a film - but Laura's writing style certainly makes the most of this story. While it gives an insight into the world of horse racing as it existed back then, it does not give any more detail than it needs to. All these factors explain why this book appeals to both horse racing fans and also to so many people who have no interest in the sport.
on 16 February 2004
This book is addictive and spellbinding!
I bought this book in the airport while waiting for a flight and had finished it by my return flight the following day - I could not put this book down!
It tells the story of Seabiscuit and all those that impacted on his life, far more gripping and eye opening than the film.
I passed it to my brother a constant reader of books and he was speechless he had not expected such a fascinating read.
Buy it! Its an excellent read.
If you only read one book about sports this year, make it Seabiscuit. This book deserves many more than five stars for its superb portrayal of the underdog horse whose career captured the nation's heart during the depths of the Depression. In fact, the less you know about thoroughbred racing in the 1930s the more you will probably like this book.
Similar to its subject, the underdog Seabiscuit, the book, Seabiscuit, constantly surprises in many multi-dimensional ways. The best books about sports transcend sports and teach us about life. Seabiscuit is a fine example of that success.
Ms. Hillenbrand is a brilliant story teller, a fine writer, and has an eye for detail that brings you into the scenes she describes. You will feel yourself on Seabiscuit's back, looking for an opening to the rail, as you read the accounts of his most famous races.
If you do not know about Seabiscuit, this horse was an unlikely candidate for racing greatness. He was built all wrong, had a weird personality, and required unusual handling that few would provide. His career was heading nowhere when he was bought by the wealthy Charles Howard, a legendary automobile dealer in the western United Sates, on the advice of his obscure trainer, Tom Smith.
Finding ways to encourage Seabiscuit provides all of the intellectual excitement of a puzzle. Part of solving the puzzle required finding a very special jockey, one whose intelligence allowed him to be flexible. No one could have seemed less likely to play the role of top jockey based on his career track record than Red Pollard, who became the most effective jockey on Seabiscuit.
The triumverate combined to take advantage of Seabiscuit's "blistering speed, tactical versatility, and indomitable will." All of that training and work led up to a monumental match race against Triple Crown winner War Admiral in 1938. During that year, more inches of newspaper space in the United States were devoted to Seabiscuit than to FDR or Hitler.
The book has so many dimensions that they cannot all be addressed in this brief space. There is a lot of history. The biographies of the three main human characters tell you a lot about the development of the automobile, horse training, and the careers of jockeys. The colorful side stories are priceless, especially the ones in Tijuana around the old track there (where western racing migrated after betting was made illegal in California). The tales about the manure pile there are hilarious.
Each of the three main characters could have been the subject of his own very interesting biography, and much interesting detail is included here.
There is a lot of humor. You will especially like the cat-and-mouse games that Tom Smith played with the media so that they could not find out how fast Seabiscuit was running in his workouts.
The stories also involve a lot of diplomacy. The background leading up to the match race with War Admiral will remind you of the peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War.
Finally, there is much tragedy. Horseracing is dangerous (especially for the jockeys), and many paid the price is a variety of ways.
I cannot remember a sports book that captures so many dimensions of fine book writing and story telling. I was reminded of Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway as I read this book, but I think that Seabiscuit is the better book.
After you finish enjoying the book, look around you. Where is there hidden potential waiting to be tapped? Do you have a Seabiscuit-like opportunity you can develop? Probably.
Be flexible in looking for great potential!