Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

by Campbell Scott

Audiobook(CD - Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs.)

$29.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780739306390
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/05/2003
Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs.
Product dimensions: 5.66(w) x 4.90(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Laura Hillenbrand has been writing about Thoroughbred racing since 1988 and has been a contributing writer/editor for Equus magazine since 1989. Her work has also appeared in American Heritage, ABC Sports Online, The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, The Backstretch, Turf and Sport Digest and many other publications. Her 1998 American Heritage article on Seabiscuit won the Eclipse Award for Magazine Writing, the highest award for Thoroughbred racing. She is currently serving as a consultant on a Universal Studios movie based on this book. Born in Fairfax, Virginia, Laura lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: The Day of the Horse is Past

Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. He would sweep into a room, working a cigarette in his fingers, and people would trail him like pilot fish. They couldn't help themselves. Fifty-eight years old in 1935, Howard was a tall, glowing man in a big suit and a very big Buick. But it wasn't his physical bearing that did it. He lived on a California ranch so huge that a man could take a wrong turn on it and be lost forever, but it wasn't his circumstances either. Nor was it that he spoke loud or long; the surprise of the man was his understatement, the quiet and kindly intimacy of his acquaintance. What drew people to him was something intangible, an air about him. There was a certain inevitability to Charles Howard, an urgency radiating from him that made people believe that the world was always going to bend to his wishes.

On an afternoon in 1903, long before the big cars and the ranch and all the money, Howard began his adulthood with only that air of destiny and 21 cents in his pocket. He sat in the swaying belly of a transcontinental train, snaking west from New York. He was twenty-six, handsome, gentlemanly, with a bounding imagination. Back then he had a lot more hair than anyone who knew him later would have guessed. Years in the saddles of military-school horses had taught him to carry his six-foot-one-inch frame straight up. He was eastern born and bred, but he had a westerner's restlessness. He had tried to satisfy it by enlisting in the cavalry for the Spanish-American War, and though he became a skilled horseman, thanks to bad timing and dysentery he never got out of Camp Wheeler in Alabama. After his discharge, he got a job in New York as a bicycle mechanic, took up competitive bicycle racing, got married, and had two sons. It seems to have been a good life, but the East stifled Howard. His mind never seemed to settle down. His ambitions had fixed upon the vast new America on the other side of the Rockies. That day in 1903 he couldn't resist the impulse anymore. He left everything he'd ever known behind, promised his wife Fannie May he'd send for her soon, and got on the train.

He got off in San Francisco. His two dimes and a penny couldn't carry him far, but somehow he begged and borrowed enough money to open a little bicycle-repair shop on Van Ness Avenue downtown. He tinkered with the bikes and waited for something interesting to come his way.

It came in the form of a string of distressed-looking men who began appearing at his door.

Eccentric souls with too much money in their pockets and far too much time on their hands, they had blown thick wads of cash on preposterous machines called automobiles. Some of them were feeling terribly sorry about it.

The horseless carriage was just arriving in San Francisco, and its debut was turning into one of those colorfully unmitigated disasters that bring misery to everyone but historians. Consumers were staying away from the "devilish contraptions" in droves. The men who had invested in them were the subjects of cautionary tales, derision, and a fair measure of public loathing. In San Francisco in 1903, the horse and buggy was not going the way of the horse and buggy.

For good reason. The automobile, so sleekly efficient on paper, was in practice a civic menace, belching out exhaust, kicking up storms of dust, becoming hopelessly mired in the most innocuous-looking puddles, tying up horse traffic, and raising an earsplitting cacophony that sent buggy horses fleeing. Incensed local lawmakers responded with monuments to legislative creativity. The laws of at least one town required automobile drivers to stop, get out, and fire off Roman candles every time horse-drawn vehicles came into view. Massachusetts tried and, fortunately, failed to mandate that cars be equipped with bells that would ring with each revolution of the wheels. In some towns police were authorized to disable passing cars with ropes, chains, wires, and even bullets, so long as they took reasonable care to avoid gunning down the drivers. San Francisco didn't escape the legislative wave. Bitter local officials pushed through an ordinance banning automobiles from the Stanford campus and all tourist areas, effectively exiling them from the city.

Nor were these the only obstacles. The asking price for the cheapest automobile amounted to twice the $500 annual salary of the average citizen‹some cost three times that much‹and all that bought you was four wheels, a body, and an engine. "Accessories" like bumpers, carburetors, and headlights had to be purchased separately. Just starting the thing, through hand cranking, could land a man in traction. With no gas stations, owners had to lug five-gallon fuel cans to local drugstores, filling them for 60 cents a gallon and hoping the pharmacist wouldn't substitute benzene for gasoline. Doctors warned women away from automobiles, fearing slow suffocation in noxious fumes. A few adventurous members of the gentler sex took to wearing ridiculous "windshield hats," watermelon-sized fabric balloons, equipped with little glass windows, that fit over the entire head, leaving ample room for corpulent Victorian coiffures. Navigation was another nightmare. The first of San Francisco's road signs were only just being erected, hammered up by an enterprising insurance underwriter who hoped to win clients by posting directions into the countryside, whose drivers retreated for automobile "picnic parties" held out of the view of angry townsfolk.

Finally, driving itself was something of a touch-and-go pursuit. The first automobiles imported to San Francisco had so little power that they rarely made it up the hills. The grade of Nineteenth Avenue was so daunting for the engines of the day that watching automobiles straining for the top became a local pastime. The automobiles' delicate constitutions and general faintheartedness soon became a source of scorn. One cartoon from the era depicted a wealthy couple standing on a roadside next to its dearly departed vehicle. The caption read, "The Idle Rich."...

Table of Contents

Preface11
Part I
1.The Day of the Horse Is Past17
2.The Lone Plainsman41
3.Mean, Restive, and Ragged58
4.The Cougar and the Iceman83
5.A Boot on One Foot, a Toe Tag on the Other106
6.Light and Shadow131
Part II
7.Learn Your Horse153
8.Fifteen Strides172
9.Gravity192
10.War Admiral212
11.No Pollard, No Seabiscuit233
12.All I Need Is Luck258
13.Hardball277
14.The Wise We Boys298
15.Fortune's Fool323
16.I Know My Horse338
17.The Dingbustingest Contest You Ever Clapped an Eye On351
18.Deal366
19.The Second Civil War384
Part III
20."All Four of His Legs Are Broken"407
21.A Long, Hard Pull425
22.Four Good Legs Between Us434
23.One Hundred Grand452
Epilogue467
Acknowledgments484
Notes497

What People are Saying About This

William Nack

Laura Hillenbrand has written one of the best sports biographies in the history of the genre. Prodigiously reported, beautifully crafted and touched throughout with lyrical grace, the book is a marvelous narrative of non-fiction that reads like a novel. From the starting gate to the wire, Seabiscuit is one memorable read.
—(William Nack, author of Secretariat: The Making of a Champion)

Reading Group Guide

1. Seabiscuit grew so popular as a cultural icon that in 1938, he commanded more space in American newspapers than any other public figure. Considering the temper of the times as well as the horse’s early career on the racetrack, what were the sources of The Biscuit’s enormous popularity during that benchmark period of U.S. history?
Would he be as popular if he raced today? What did the public need that it found in this horse?

2. The Great Match Race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938
evoked heated partisan passions. These passions spilled over on radio and into the daily prints, with each colt leading a raucous legion of followers to the barrier at Pimlico Race Course that autumn day. What were the differences separating these two horses, and what did each competitor represent in the American experience that set one apart from the other?

3. All jockeys in the 1930s endured terrible hardships and hazards,
starving themselves to make weight, then competing in an exceptionally dangerous sport. For George Woolf and Red Pollard, there were additional factors that compounded the difficulties and dangers of their jobs—diabetes for the former and half-blindness for the latter. Why, in spite of this, did they go on with their careers? What were the allures of race riding that led them to subject themselves to such risk and torment?

4. What was the role of the press and radio in the Seabiscuit phenomenon?
How did Howard use the media to his advantage? How did the media help Seabiscuit’s career, and how was it a hindrance?

5. Seabiscuit possessed all the qualities for which the Thoroughbred has been prized since the English imported the breed’s three foundation sires from the Middle East three hundred years ago. What were those qualities? What made this horse a winner?

6. Horses of Seabiscuit’s stature, from Man o’ War in the 1920s to Cigar in the 1990s, have always generated a powerful gravitational field of their own, attracting crowds of people into their immediate orbit, shaping relationships among them, and even affecting the personalities of those nearest them. How did Seabiscuit shape and influence the lives of those around him?

7. Red Pollard, Tom Smith, and Charles Howard formed an unlikely partnership. In what ways were these men different? How did their differences serve as an asset to them?

8. What critical attribute did Howard, Smith, and Pollard share? How did this shared attribute serve as a key to their success?

9. In what ways was each man in the Seabiscuit partnership similar, in his own way, to Seabiscuit himself? How did these similarities help them cultivate the horse’s talents and cure his ailments and neuroses?

10. What lessons can be drawn from the successes of the Seabiscuit team? What does their story say about the role of character in life?

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