Before football became the overwhelmingly popular American sport, horse racing entertained the masses. Telling the history of a four-legged creature is difficult due to the fact that they cannot talk. And they generally have no correspondences, interviews, or autobiographies to mine for information. However, Hillenbrand managed to gather information from Seabiscuit’s humans and write a fantastic biography. Seabiscuit was an extraordinary animal who possessed fantastic speed and a crazy personality. But it is these characteristics that have caused him to go from a reject to a legendary champion. In 1938, Seabiscuit electrified the sporting world and became on the most popular attraction in sporting history. He received more press coverage than Mussolini, President Franklin Roosevelt, and Adolf Hitler. However, the racing world regarded Seabiscuit off as nothing more than a crooked-legged horse with a pathetic tale. Yet he went on to become one of the most iconic racing horses in the sports history. This is an excellent biography and Hillenbrand brings to life this underdog story. I cannot think of a single aspect I did not enjoy about this book. It includes a detailed biography of Seabiscuit, his owner, and the disturbing weight-loss habits of desperate jockeys. While the book is excellent, I cannot recommend the movie.
Seabiscuit, Ballantine Books, 2003, ISBN 9780345465085
In 1973, Secretariat won the Triple Crown and became the only horse to ever break the two-minute mark in winning the Kentucky Derby, until Monarchos, Secretariat also set an amazing record in horse racing history by winning the Belmont Stakes by thirty-one lengths. In his book, Nack details the lineage and life of this racing champion. As a horse enthusiasts, I knew about Secretariat but I did not read that much about his backstory. I was given this book by my aunt and I really enjoyed reading the story. However, the first couple of chapters take some real willpower to slog through. Nack decided to present the entire lineage of Secretariat in the opening chapters. While this helps to establish the impressive line of champions Secretariat came from, but unless you are a diehard racing fan, this information is rather boring. Once these chapters are over, the story picks up its momentum and pacing. The narrative excellently fleshes out the life of the champion away from the racetrack. Horseracing tends to bring out the worst in some people, so a lot of the humans in this narrative do not come off in a positive light. I recommend this book to any horse enthusiasts or anyone interested in major sporting events. The movie was also excellent, if slightly romanticized.
Secretariat, Da Capo Press, 2002, ISBN 9780306811333
This book started my obsession with books about horses. No other animal is quite as majestic as horses and I enjoy reading novels exploring their interactions with human society. Black Beauty was published in 1877 and became an immediate best-seller. Sewell dies just five months after publication but she did live long enough to see her only novel becomes a success. With over fifty million copies sold, Black Beauty remains one of the bestselling English language novels of all time. In this novel, Sewell clearly depicts life in turn-of-the-century London and the universal message that animals will serve humans if they are treated well. Black Beauty follows the story of the titular horse as he grows from a well-born colt living in a meadow to a carriage horse for a gentleman to a broken down cab horse. The story is written in an autographical format told from the viewpoint of Black Beauty. Sewell’s writing is full of detailed observations and extensive descriptions of horse behavior and treatment. However, the prose takes while to read through since it is written in an older style. Since the book deals with animal cruelty, there are some painful moments that are difficult to read. As with most classic novels, Black Beauty has been adapted for the big screen multiple times.
Black Beauty, Scholastic Paperbacks, 2003, ISBN 9780439228909
This is another favorite book from my childhood. Published in 1948, King of the Wind is a novel by Marguerite Henry and won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1949. This is not a standard children’s book, it is a well-researched historical novel about the Godolphin Arabian. These gorgeous horses were the ancestors of the present day thoroughbred racehorses. King of the Wind is a fictionalized biography about the breed and focuses on Sham and the stable boy Agba. The novel begins with Man o’War’s victory against Sir Barton and then his surprise retirement. Then the narrative moves to Morocco and explores the history of the Godolphin Arabians. Even readers who are not horse lovers will be drawn into the adventures of Agba and the horse he lovingly tends. The narrative is fast paced and filled with vivid descriptions. Agba is a great character who manages to overcome his slave status, muteness, and small stature in order to survive. He also rises above his limitations to establish Sham’s lost pedigree. Along the way, Agba and Sham traverse the sands of the Sahara, the royal courts of France, and the green pastures of England. This is an excellent book and the narrative is one of the best fictionalized horse stories in print.
King of the Wind, Aladdin, 1990, ISBN 9780027436297
This is a fictionalized biography of the great American race horse as told by a stable boy who grew up with the great horse. Farley’s book is a nostalgic exploration of horse racing before staring gates and televised coverage. Even a hundred years later, Man o’War’s racing achievement are impressive. He raced twenty-one times and only lost once. Known as Big Red, he also set three world records and two American racing records. Towards the end of the career, no one else wanted to race their horses against him. In one of his last races, he almost won by default since no one else entered. At the very last moment another horse was entered and Man o’War won by 100 lengths. Big Red is forever immortalized as a racing icon but few people today know the history. People in 1947 certainly knew, two thousand people attended the funeral. This excellent book follows Man o’War’s career through the eyes of Danny Ryan. While Danny is a rather cardboard character, the narrative is worth reading. For a fictionalized account, Farley does a wonderful job of describing the racing world, from the time the horse is born to the intense training needed for racing. From all that I have read, Farley’s fictionalized book is quite close to the true biography of Man o’War.
Man O’War, Yearling, 1983, ISBN 9780394860152