Friday Reads: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

A sure sign of a good book is one that you are happy to read again for your book club, even though you read it on your own when it first came out … and you find that you are so excited by the heart-pounding action and brilliant writing that you have to put it down to catch your breath and calm your nerves, but not for too long, because you can’t wait to find out what happens next.  Such a quandary!  That was the experience of one member of the library’s Narrative Nonfiction Book Club when she was reading Seabiscuit: an American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.

Seabiscuit, in case you aren’t familiar, was a crooked-legged racehorse, “one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938.” (Publisher’s summary.)  He overcame humble beginnings and numerous setbacks to win the most important race of the time.  But this book isn’t just about the horse.  It is about the three men who loved him: his owner, his trainer and his jockey, and the culture of horse racing that thrived despite the Great Depression and looming world war.

Almost half of the book club members read the book when it came out in 2003.  It “was an instant success – so instant, in fact, that it made its way to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list before it was even advertised.  The book stayed at No. 1 for nearly 10 months and remained on the best-seller list for more than two years.  Seabiscuit sold more than 6 million copies in the United States alone and has been translated into 15 languages.  It also spawned a hugely successful film that garnered seven Oscar nominations.” (

Members who read the book again for the book club commented that during the first read, they were caught up in the story, but during the second read, they found they noticed more details.  For those readers who enjoy learning about an experience they’ll never have themselves, such as professional horse racing, mountaineering, commercial diving, and the like, the details in Seabiscuit make the reader feel as if he or she is on horseback pounding down the track, streaking over the finish line.  Members who read the book for the first time were enthralled, whether or not they had an interest in horses before opening the cover.  It was just that good.

Next month, we will be discussing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah story by John Berendt.  Pick up a copy at the reference desk now and join us on Thursday, January 5 at 10:00 am in the Hermann Foundation meeting room for another rousing discussion.

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