Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

by Laura Hillenbrand

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Overview

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of the runaway phenomenon Unbroken comes a universal underdog story about the horse who came out of nowhere to become a legend.

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.

Praise for Seabiscuit

“Fascinating . . . Vivid . . . A first-rate piece of storytelling, leaving us not only with a vivid portrait of a horse but a fascinating slice of American history as well.”The New York Times

“Engrossing . . . Fast-moving . . . More than just a horse’s tale, because the humans who owned, trained, and rode Seabiscuit are equally fascinating. . . . [Laura Hillenbrand] shows an extraordinary talent for describing a horse race so vividly that the reader feels like the rider.”Sports Illustrated

“REMARKABLE . . . MEMORABLE . . . JUST AS COMPELLING TODAY AS IT WAS IN 1938.”The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345465085
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/01/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 4.17(w) x 6.89(h) x 1.03(d)
Lexile: 990L (what's this?)

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

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, gentle-manly, 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 revo-
lution 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.”

Where San Franciscans saw an urban nuisance, Charles Howard saw opportunity. Automobile-repair shops hadn’t been created yet—and would have made little sense anyway as few were fool enough to buy a car.
Owners had no place to go when their cars expired. A bicycle repairman was the closest thing to an auto mechanic available, and Howard’s shop was conveniently close to the neighborhoods of wealthy car owners.
Howard hadn’t been in town long before the owners began showing up on his doorstep.

Howard had a weakness for lost causes. He accepted the challenge,
poked around in the cars, and figured out how to fix them. Soon he was showing up at the primitive automobile races held around the city. Before long, he was driving in them. The first American race, run around
Evanston, Illinois, had been held only eight years before, with the winning car ripping along at the dizzying average speed of seven and a half miles per hour. But by 1903, automotive horsepower had greatly improved—
one car averaged 65.3 mph in a cross-European race that season—making the races a good spectacle. It also made for astronomical casualty rates.
The European race, for one, turned into such a godawful bloodletting that it was ultimately halted due to “too many fatalities.”

Howard was beginning to see these contraptions as the instrument of his ambition. Taking an audacious step, he booked a train east, got off in
Detroit, and somehow talked his way into a meeting with Will Durant,
chief of Buick Automobiles and future founder of General Motors.
Howard told Durant that he wanted to be a part of the industry, troubled though it was. Durant liked what he saw and hired him to set up dealerships and recruit dealers. Howard returned to San Francisco, opened the
Pioneer Motor Company on Buick’s behalf, and hired a local man to manage it. But on a checkup visit, he was dismayed to find that the manager was focusing his sales effort not on Buicks but on ponderous Thomas Flyers. Howard went back to Detroit and told Durant that he could do better.
Durant was sold. Howard walked away with the Buick franchise for all of
San Francisco. It was 1905, and he was just twenty-eight years old.

Howard returned to San Francisco by train with three Buicks in tow.
By some accounts, he first housed his automobiles in the parlor of his old bicycle-repair shop on Van Ness Avenue before moving to a modest building on Golden Gate Avenue, half a block from Van Ness. He brought Fannie
May out to join him. With two young boys to feed, and two more soon to follow, Fannie May must have been alarmed by her husband’s career choice. Two years had done little to pacify the San Franciscan hostility for the automobile. Howard failed to sell a single car.

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?

Customer Reviews

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Seabiscuit: An American Legend 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 363 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I happened upon this book by mere coincidence and only read it to get in the good graces of my English teacher who was unleashing a vicious wrath on those who disagreed with her book choices. She handed it to me with high reccomendations. With my gradess at stake, I struggled to maintain focus during the first few pages of interminable facts, but soon fell in love with the gripping tale of a quiet trainer, a garralous owner, and horse with both character and a huge heart. You don't need to be an animal lover to enjoy this enthralling tale though it helps. While this reccomendation may not have moved you, I hope that you will give this wonderful book a chance as my ability in writing reviews, this being my first, does not in any way reflect the ability of Laura Hillenbrand's amazing story telling ability.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved Unbroken and read that first. I decided to go ahead and read this story even though it isn't my usual type of book. Wow. This book was just as good as Unbroken which is high praise. I cannot wait to see what her next project will be...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Laura Hillenbrand's heartening tale one horse lifts the country as he races to unlikely victories. The novel tells the tale of Seabiscuit, a doubted horse that despite all of his setbacks, rises and becomes, arguably, the best race horse of the century. All adding a dash of depth, Hillenbrand, connects us to the characters of, Tom Smith the quiet and wise trainer, Red Pollard the blind battered jockey, and the owner; a charming self made man, Charles Howard. It is inevitable the personal connection made with all the characters, but the connection to Seabiscuit even makes non-horse lovers fall in love with his comedic and stubborn personality. Hillenbrand brilliantly intertwines the hardships and poverty of the country with the main theme of perseverance to overcome. Using imagery, Hillenbrand, portrays the toll that racing had on not only Seabiscuit, but also his main jockey Red. As the horse and jockey became more beaten throughout the story their importance, perseverance, and unbreakable bond only grew greater. The novel also yields the message of teamwork and the importance of taking risks. As the economy crashed Howard's growing business as a car repairman halted and he, like so many other Americans, questioned what to do. Following his interest in the dying sport of horse racing he purchased Seabiscuit, the son of Hardtack (a miraculous race horse). With the combination of Seabiscuit, Red Pollard, and Tom Smith, Charles Howard hoped victory would proceed. Working as a team the unlikely horse rose to greatness, demonstrating that risks and hard work are essential to the success of any feat large or small. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, with the exception of the small portion of dry writing in the beginning, and I would indefinitely recommend this book to someone. It tells an uplifting and touching story of perseverance, relationships, and victory, that anyone would enjoy reading. Other inspirational novels such as Secretariat and Man O' War would be great additional reads to Seabiscuit. In 1938 every stride Seabiscuit made towards victory captured the hearts of Americans and now through every page of this novel he is capturing more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will admit, I saw the movie first. However, this only made me enjoy the book more, for it is the amazing detail with which the author brings to life the story of Seabiscuit that makes it such a wonderful read. Yes, I cried. And I was in shock at reading of the horrors the jockeys would inflict upon themselves. Absorbing, wonderful...just wonderful. Some of the best written non-fiction out there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LH did a wonderful job of putting all of this together. It keeps you in want of the next page throughout. Incredible story, very well told.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The truly awesome story of an amazing horse with some of the most intense racing scenes I've ever read. Also the story of the owner, Howard; the trainer, Tom Smith; and the jockey, Red Pollard - all odd balls in their own way. Very moving. Loved it.
Katherine Russell More than 1 year ago
After reading Unbroken, I was anxious to read another of Laura Hillenbrands books. Wasn't sure if I would enjoy it as much, but Seabiscuit was fabulous! I hated for it to end. The characters were well developed as were the racing events. Highly recommed it! Ms. Hillenbrand is a exceptionally gifted author. I pray that she will be able to bless us with more of her literary talents. Thank You Laura!
DoctorDavidNJ More than 1 year ago
You can hear the hoofbeats and smell the sweat on every page. The movie is not enough!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everything about this book is so good. I have seen the movie & now own a copy. This book about Howard, Smith, & Pollard and of course Seabisciut wants you to keep pulling for them all. Read this book even if you don't have a love for history, you won't regret it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was slow to start, I felt like I had to read a 100 pg prologue to get to the story...Once I got to the story I just wanted to finish the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With all the relentless buzz surrounding the book and movie, I felt compelled to read the story of Seabiscuit, the plucky little horse who overcame adversity. He's a fascinating subject and author Laura Hillenbrand spares no small detail in her narration. In the end, I felt tired of the countless races and near victories. More editing would have helped the book. Sometimes less is more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the way she writes...you're THERE. There's no way else to explain it...or no higher praise. You are in the stands, in the barn, ON THE HORSE.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book shows seabiscuts whole life! I found everything i need to know about him!
Dragongirl7 More than 1 year ago
This was an inspiring book of the will, perseverance, heart and determination of a magnificent horse and the three man whose lives revolved around him during Depression-era America. It's a great book for anyone, not just horse-people. I found myself rooting for Seasbiscuit even when it seemed like he couldn't do it. My heart raced alongside Seabiscuit. The feats of this brave little horse and his fearless jockey were so incredible and unbelievable, and they earned a place in my heart
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not like this book, and I am apparently alone here. Though the storyline intrigues me greatly, I found the style of writing to be quite similar to a textbook I might have had in grade school. I still plan on seeing the movie, but prefer to stick with books that provide a little more emotional insight than this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Laura Hillenbrand is the Tiger Woods of historical novelists. It makes you wonder why every novel can't be this good. Plagued by chronic fatigue syndrome and vertigo, Hillenbrand took to writing on her back with eyes closed, surrounding herself with food and supplies, researching and following up on detail after detail to create the one of the most enjoyable and historically accurate novels ever written. She paints a backdrop for her subject matter out of the grit of the 1930's with a colorful palette of unforgettable characters and locales including the account of a "dead" jockey who was sprung back to life by a shot of adrenaline and fought to get back on his horse for the next race! The popularity of Seabiscuit during the depression can be compared to the Beatles in the 60's. The hysteria and excitement created by this courageous champion of a horse jumps out of the pages and holds the reader hostage through each heart-stopping race. This is an adventure worth reliving again and again!
Anonymous 5 months ago
NellieMc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating history -- meticulously researched and written. As interesting for the insight it gives to Depression America and the profiles of some fascinating characters as it is for learning about horseracing. I admire the horses, the jockeys, and the author. Bravo!
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the mid-1930s, an unlikely team of men and horse took the racing world by storm. Charles Howard made his fortune selling cars, but purchased racing horses and loved the limelight. Tom Smith was a horse trainer with a unique horse sense and methods. Jockey Red Pollard was a witty, hard-fighting competitor who read classics and affectionately referred to Emerson as "Old Waldo." And then there was Seabiscuit: a stocky, short-legged horse who loved to sleep but also loved to run.I bought this book years ago at the library book sale and it has languished on my shelves unread. In fact, I had it so long I finally put it in the box of books ready to donate back to the book sale. Then I read Unbroken, and was so completely blown away I had to dig this book out and put it back on my shelves. So, needless to say, I'm a bit behind the times in reading and loving this book. Hillenbrand deftly paints a picture of a moment in history, of a detail that makes it come alive, and of the people involved in these events. This is true in both of her books, though the subjects are very different. Seabiscuit's story is both inspiring and bittersweet, and if you happened to have put it on your pile of books that has been there so long you've nearly given up - give it a chance. You may, like me, be glad you did.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love how Laura Hillenbrand is able to invoke historical setting with details and historical events in an engaging way. The narration for the audiobook was fine. But by the end, I was losing interest in Seabiscuit a little bit. It just seemed like the same things kept happening over and over again - Seabiscuit was scratched from a bunch of races, then he ran, then he got hurt, then he was scratched from a bunch of races, etc.
kyragtopgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books. Even if you are not a fan of horses or horse stories, the characters in the book are so intriguing that you want to hear the story. I am a fan of horses and horse stories, and have read many about famous race horses, and this one is one of the best.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great and most interesting read.
Andromeda_Yelton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging when I was reading it and full of interesting characters, which I'd almost totally forgotten the next week. Good beach read.
ajlletourneau on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
He was too small, had an awkward gait, but nobody knew his heart except Red Pollard, his jockey. The story of the little horse that did.
av0415 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seabiscuit is a well written book but I got bored reading it. Well I'm not saying that it isn't that great of a book, it's just that I'm not fond of very detailed books. It's also kind of slow paced, another reason for me not to adore this nonfiction.