Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American Legend  


Laura Hillenbrand

Category: Biography

Synopsis: Hillenbrand presents a biography of one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

Date finished: 3 March 2014

Rating: *****


Oh. My. Goodness.

I have never gotten to the end of a book before and cried that it was over. I’ve felt sad, yes. I’ve missed characters and settings, sure. But to feel emotionally annihilated? Nope. Disconsolately bereft? Not until now.

How will I ever do this book justice?

What strikes me is that anyone could have written this book, but it took Hillenbrand to write it this well. She seemed to really love and understand her subjects. She gave them room to be themselves. She didn’t make caricatures of them, and she didn’t anthropomorphize Seabiscuit. But what subjects they were! You’ve got Charles Howard, Seabiscuit’s gregarious, kind-hearted, press-loving owner. You’ve got Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s taciturn trainer. And there’s Red Pollard, the Ralph Waldo Emerson-loving alcoholic with supremely bad luck and big heart. Lastly, there’s Seabiscuit himself. A horse that knew racing was a game and knew he could win. He’d taunt his rivals, and he won the match race against War Admiral by breaking him down. War Admiral retired two races later.

I know next to nothing about horses and absolutely zero about horse racing. The only horse races I’ve ever seen have been in movies. The only time I was ever on a horse was when I was little more than a toddler. But this book wasn’t just about horses or racing or even a Depression-era America that needed something to believe in. It is about spirit—human and animal. Do some folks—or some horses—possess it in greater measure, or is it nurtured? What is the measure of greatness? How much of excellence is confidence, and is it the same for equine athletes as for human athletes? Is passion a personality trait or learned behavior? Also, how many people are as good at any one thing as Seabiscuit was at running? All questions I’m still asking myself days later.

Hillenbrand’s writing is informative, vivid, colorful, and playful. Her research is exhaustive (don’t skip the Acknowledgements). She took time with her story and let it unfold naturally. Her descriptions of the race scenes were so exciting my heart was pounding and my adrenalin was flowing. Now, I’ve read a lot of books in my life, but I’ve never been so engrossed that my blood-pressure elevated!

I bought my first copy of this book when the movie came out. I never got around to reading it, so I donated it. I picked it up again after reading customer reviews. Proof that if you’re meant to read something, the book will reappear. Would I have appreciated the book ten years ago? I doubt it. Not like this.
Would you recommend this to a friend?
Not highly enough. This is a beautiful, flawless book.

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Truly, nothing compares.

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