Sunday, June 13, 2010
Last winter I took a research collection development course and did a project assessing collections of non-gambling related horse racing books. This book is the most widely held by libraries around the country. I always found it surprising, too, that this a New York Times bestseller. It's about horse racing for crying out loud. More to the point, it's about a horse. What can you say about a horse other than he ran?
There's a reason for so many people buying and reading this book. It is superbly written. It's really amazing. Hillenbrand ties the horse Seabiscuit together with trainer Tom Smith, jockey Red Pollard and owner Charles Howard to weave a fascinating and exciting story. The foursome are a bunch of outcasts (made exaggeratedly so in the movie which I enjoyed very much long before I read the book). Howard, the former bicycle mechanic turned automobile dealer is so set on being different that when he is looking for horses, rather than spend tons of money on a stable of high-end horses, he sends Smith scouring the country for sleepers.
Smith gets along with horses far better than he does with people and has an amazing way of turning horses around. The movie makes Pollard the central figure but I got the sense that he was almost along for the ride. Pollard suffered through numerous injuries and Seabiscuit was ridden by other jockeys, most notably George Woolf, with success. Also, it didn't seem as if Pollard fared well riding other horses. He's an interesting fellow. I just don't think his impact on Seabiscuit's success was as large as Smith, Howard or Seabiscuit himself.
Hillenbrand writes well and ties together articles with interviews to make a very entertaining story. One of the things that makes a great non-fiction book for me is my desire to learn more about the topic or related topics. Hillenbrand does that. There were two side characters that really fascinated me about whom I wanted to learn more: Woolf and Cowboy Charlie Irwin. Both seemed like complex individuals who would make excellent subjects of books.
Finding out more about Hillenbrand, I found that she struggled through health issues as she researched and wrote this. I find it all the more impressive and amazing that the book reads so well given her health struggles.
This is just a great non-fiction book. You don't need to have an interest in horse racing to enjoy it and if you do, all the better.