Just Another Blog
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Another Book Review: Seabiscuit - An American Legend

I just noticed that I haven't told you all to read Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

I read this while on vacation, and the book is - hands down - one of my favorite books that I have ever read. While I consider myself a racing enthusiast, I think that most people would enjoy this book even if they have never been to a horse race.

Seabiscuit was a thoroughbred who raced between 1935 and 1940. He was owned by the man who built the Buick brand in the western United States largely as a result of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

I loved the book because it tells so many stories. There is the story of the four year-old old horse that seems already past his prime who rallies to greatness. There is the story of the jockey also past his prime who joins up with the horse with mutual dreams of greatness. There is the story of the mysterious trainer who may also be past his prime and who only longs to keep his horses happy and healthy. There is the story of the life of jockeys.

And, perhaps most interestingly, there is the story of the rise of popular culture in America. The late 1930's brought radio to average American household. In 1938 - as measured by column inches - Seabiscuit was the biggest story of the year; behind him were Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler. But Seabiscuit was the story of the year. Of course, Seabiscuit could not have propelled himself through the airwaves of radio on his own. It took the larger-than-life personality of his owner, Charles Howard, to really make him a star. Charles Howard may well have been the first national media darling outside of Hollywood. He wrote the book on getting the media to eat out of your hand.

Superbowl sized crowds watched Seabiscuit's races long before there was a Superbowl. Throngs watched his workouts (when they could find him). Board games honored him. He graced the covers of nearly all the popular magazines of the day. In short, Seabiscuit was the first All-American hero. Baseball had its Ruth's and Gehrig's and Robinson's, but none of them brought the country together in the kind of frenzied excitement that Seabiscuit did.

Unfortunately, I have not heard good things about the movie. And, judging from the scope of the book, I can see why the movie would be disappointing. The book covers so many things: pop-culture, jockey culture, the horse, the owner, the trainer, the jockeys, the rivalry, horse psychology, the offspring, and on, and on. The movie surely had to ignore too many fascinating parts to be faithful to the book.

I know two other people who have read this book and given it reviews nearly as glowing as mine. My father points out the author's amazing ability to transform a two minute race into the most gripping of page-turning tales. Indeed, the head-to-head with War Admiral (who was the son of Man o' War who was Seabiscuit's grandfather (by way of Hard Tack)) was one of the most exciting tales I have ever read. Period.

Perhaps that's not surprising as the book reports that to this day the race is widely regarded as the greatest horse race ever run. Read the book and you will clearly understand why. I learned a lot too about the competitive nature of horses in the events and preparations that culminated in this greatest of all races.

With my heartiest of recommendations, I suggest that you read Seabiscuit.