Seabiscuit Essay

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They say life is stranger than fiction and for a book lover like me, nothing pleases me more than reading about the true stories of real people and their struggles with real life. Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend has both entertained me and inspired me –it is just one of those books that make you look at life from a whole new perspective.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend is 399 pages full of inspiration about a thoroughbred, published by the Ballantine Publishing Group in New York City in 2001.In my opinion, most everyone will like the book –if not completely love it. After all, it is the classic story of an underdog’s achievements despite the challenges along the way. In the book, we are introduced to Seabiscuit, an unlikely champion.

He was described by Hillenbrand as a rough-hewn, undersized horse with a sad little tail and knees that wouldn’t straighten all the way. At a gallop, he jabbed one foreleg sideways, as if he were swatting flies. For two years, he fought his trainers and floundered at the lowest level of racing, misunderstood and mishandled, before his dormant talent was discovered by three men.One was Red Pollard, a failed prizefighter and failing jockey who had been living in a horse stall since being abandoned at a makeshift racetrack as a boy.

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One was Tom Smith, “The Lone Plainsman,” a virtually mute mustang breaker who had come from the vanishing frontier, bearing generations of lost wisdom about the secrets of horses. The third was a cavalry veteran named Charles Howard, a former bicycle repairman who made a fortune by introducing the automobile to the American West.In the sultry summer of 1936, Howard bought Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price and entrusted him to Smith and Pollard. Using frontier training methods that raised eyebrows on the backstretch, they discovered that beneath the hostility and fear was a gentlemanly horse with keen intelligence, frightening speed, and ferocious competitive will. It was the beginning of four years of extraordinary drama, in which Seabiscuit overcame a phenomenal run of bad fortune to become one of the most spectacular performers in sports history. Seabiscuit began competing in the cruelest years of the Great Depression, with his rags-to-riches story ending up as American cultural icon—drawing an almost-fanatical following and thereby established himself as the single biggest newsmaker of 1938.In my opinion, no author could have pulled off the story of Seabiscuit than Laura Hillenbrand. According to the official website of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Hillenbrand has been writing about history and Thoroughbred racing since 1988 and has been a contributing writer/editor for Equus magazine since 1989. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Talk, American Heritage, Reader’s Digest, ABC Sports Online, The New York Post, The Week, Attache, The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, The Backstretch, and many other publications. Her 1998 American Heritage article on Seabiscuit won the Eclipse Award for Magazine Writing, the highest journalistic award for Thoroughbred racing. She is currently serving as a consultant on a Universal Pictures movie based on this book as well as a PBS documentary on Seabiscuit’s life. An alumna of Kenyon College, Laura lives in Washington, D.C.According to the review which came out in the New York Times, Laura Hillenbrand, has written an absorbing book that stands as the model of sports writing at its best in telling the Cinderella story of Seabiscuit and his devoted trainer, owner and jockey. In this book, Ms. Hillenbrand gives us a visceral appreciation of that sport as refracted through the tumultuous lives of Seabiscuit and his human companions, while at the same time creating a keenly observed portrait of a Depression-era America bent on escapism and the burgeoning phenomenon of mass-media-marketed celebrity.Hillenbrand narrates the Seabiscuit-War Admiral showdown with the same panache she brings to the accounts of Biscuit’s remarkable comeback from a seemingly career-ending injury (paralleled, uncannily, by Pollard’s efforts to recover from a series of debilitating injuries) and his repeated attempts to win the coveted Santa Anita Handicap.Without a doubt, her storytelling takes on a deeper level –vividly giving us a portrait of a piece of American history. The fact that Hillenbrand took note of every detail that took place also contributed to the success of the book and the film that followed it.According to the website of the Bookreporter, the book which is told in the tradition of the oral biography, Hillenbrand wisely leaves much of the story to be narrated by the men who knew and loved Seabiscuit the best — his owner Charles Howard, his trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard. In turn, the lives of these three men are remembered to Hillenbrand by the men and women who knew and loved them best. In this way, Hillenbrand, a well-established thoroughbred-racing journalist, lets the story of this remarkable horse tell itself, needing only her evocative prose to guide it along. Grounding the story in the people that touched and were touched by Seabiscuit also acts as a safeguard literary device that prevents the book from careening off into the dangerous territory of over-anthropomorphization — which would be all too easy, given the subject matter.As noted in one of the reviews about the book, the stories of the races in which Seabiscuit shattered speed records are turned into infinities where the possibilities of winning or losing reveal themselves in infinitesimal increments. These passages are almost unbearably suspenseful. Hillenbrand also has a good sense of what to leave out, which may account for the book’s near-perfect pacing and length. I definitely would have to agree that the heart of its appeal is in its seamless combination of triumph and melancholy.It cannot be overemphasized that the book has been wonderfully crafted by Hillenbrand whose expertise on horse-racing proved to be an asset in the creation of this book. Hillenbrand encapsulates her history and sporting lessons in the trappings of the kind of rags-to-riches story that is impossible not to relate to, the secret that makes this book a fascinating read for those new to thoroughbred racing or those  pitifully ignorant of the seminal events of American history.Clearly, Hillenbrand brings us back to an era racing fans today wish would return, when racing was king and drew large crowds and widespread media attention. But more importantly, her work is appealing to almost anyone, including those who have never attended a race or read a book about the sport before. Those who have never heard of Seabiscuit can now understand the greatness racing fans of the late 1930’s were fortunate to have witnessed first-hand. This broad appeal has led to a feature film currently in production that is slated for wide release in the fall of 2003.Regardless of the era, I am confident that most everyone will be able to relate to the story of Seabiscuit and his journey towards greatness. It is a must-read for everyone who has encountered a problem and emerged victorious.

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Seabiscuit Essay
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