Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Description: By now, many folks have already read this book, which was a bestseller a few years ago, or at least seen the movie. I had done neither, so when this was a pick for my book group, I came to it with only a vague impression of what the book was about. (race horse). Basically, I was right. The book is about a race horse, Seabiscuit, and those around him, chiefly his owner, his trainer, and his jockey. As a journalist, Hillenbrand weaves in many other threads—the beginning of the automobile business, the state of horse racing in the 1930’s, what it means physically to be a jockey, minutiae about handicapping horse races, and so on. The narrative arc of the book covers Seabiscuit’s discovery through his early success, his setbacks, and his final races.
Writing style: This book is documentary journalism; according to the background material on the author, Hillenbrand had written about thoroughbred racing for many years before she tackled this novel-length book. As such, it got too detailed for me about race after race and race-track after race-track.
Audience: To be fair, this is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own. I was very aware of it when it came out and when it was made into a movie and I hadn’t read it. For a reason. But, I’m a compliant book group member, so I dutifully made myself read it. I know it was a bestseller and I can’t quite figure out why. So I could take a guess as to the audience for the book, but I already know that the real answer to this question is “everyone but me.” Stumped.
Major ideas: Hillenbrand makes much of the idea of Seabiscuit as the unlikely underdog who came to be a symbol of the resurgence of the American spirit during the Depression. There is also some interesting social history, though very focused: the miserable living conditions of jockeys, East vs. West coasts within the horse-racing scene, and a lot more information about gambling than I will ever need to know.
Wrap-up: The popularity of this book is a mystery to me. There were 2-3 chapters that I found interesting; otherwise I had to force myself through it by refusing to read anything else until I had dutifully taken on Seabiscuit for a half-hour or so. I probably won’t be picking up any more Hillenbrand. 2/5*