Ever since I read Misty of Chincoteague, horse books have held a special place in my heart--perhaps even more so than the animals themselves! So when I saw this book at our Library bookstore, being sold off for a dollar, how could I resist? I knew a movie had been made out of this story and though I hadn't seen it, I had heard so many good reports that I was eager to learn about the story myself. And as is so often the case, I suspected that the book might be even better than the movie.
Though she wrote a nonfiction book, Laura Hillenbrand's prose reads like a novel. I was surprised. I was never a fan of biographies and the like growing up, and I half expected to slog through the dead weight of factuality in order to enjoy the exciting story. Not a bit of it! I blazed through this book in three days, unable to put it down. Hillenbrand gives a delicious amount of back story for each of the main players--Seabiscuit's owner, trainer, and jockeys (there being two that rode him.) This "extra" information was fascinating, and like a true artist, the author paints the whole picture with broad strokes of time and location so that the reader truly feels he understands the situations and emotions that are occurring in and around the characters.
When I finally watched the movie, I was pleased with how well they followed the story. One thing that the film simply could not capture, however, was the passage of time. And how could they? How, in a two-hour film, could you grasp the full significance of the months of training and bad weather and worry over Seabiscuit's ankle injuries? Or the prolonged attempts to confront the legendary War Admiral, king of the Eastern racing scene, in a duel? Or what about the embarrassment of repeated scratches when tens of thousands of fans have come to see Seabiscuit race? And ultimately, Seabiscuit's retirement because of his lame legs at Howard's home, lounging around with his equally lame jockey? There is no way of capturing on screen the unbelievable feat that Seabiscuit attained as an "ancient" nearly 7-year-old horse, returning with a bang to the racing scene, and winning the richest cup in America in 1940.
Within the story is included several side jaunts into the lives of Howard (the owner, who always made buddies of the press), Tom Smith (silent trainer who made enemies of the press), and Red Pollard (jockey who got injured even more than Seabiscuit.) These side tales are delightful and give the authentic "factual" air to the book without becoming stuffy and boring. With powerful writing that reflects the power of the horse and the men surrounding it, Laura Hilldenbrand sketches an unforgettable picture of depression-era America, drawn together from all corners by an underdog horse making it big.