The Biscuit

Posted by Sherry on 1/15/2005 in 1936, 20th Century History Project, General, Nonfiction |

I finished reading Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand today, and I must say it’s been a good read. I really like nonfiction that tells a story, is rich in detail but doesn’t get bogged down in meaningless facts and figures. Seabiscuit, as everybody already knows because of the movie, is the story of a race horse. Most of the action takes place just before World War 2, 1936-1940. The book is about the horse, his owner, Charles Howard, his trainer, Tom Smith, and his two jockeys, George Woolf and Red Pollard. They’re a colorful lot. Seabiscuit himself is almost deformed in the knees, a horse that loves to eat and sleep–and run. One of his jockeys is blind in one eye; the other has chronic diabetes. Smith the trainer is eccentric, to say the least, and Seabiscuit’s owner is a self-made millionaire from San Francisco who started out as a bicycle repairman. All of these characters come together to create an unforgetable episode in American history. I’ve never been interested in horseracing, but I am interested in people and in history. I thought Hillenbrand captured the personalities of the people in her book (and even of the horses) and made me want to know what happened to them. What decisions did they make? How did each of their life’s “races” turn out?
Pollard, for example, was a Canadian, “an elegant young man, tautly muscled, with a shock of supernaturally orange hair. . . he lived entirely on the road of the racing circuit, sleeping in empty stalls, carrying with him only a saddle, his rosary, and his books: pocket volumes of Shakespeare, Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, a little copy of Robert Service’s Songs of the Sourdough, maybe some Emerson, whom he called ‘Old Waldo.’ The books were the closest things he had to furniture, and he lived in them the way other men live in easy chairs.” Don’t you already want to know what will happen to a man like that when he meets up with Seabiscuit, a championship horse with so many quirks that only Pollard, and his friend Woolf, understand him well enough to ride him to victory?
Seabiscuit showed me a whole subculture that I knew nothing about, the horse racing world. And it was a fascinating world.
Some other worlds you may want to visit:
One Child by Torey Hayden–The world of mentally disturbed children and their teacher.
Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder–The world of computer geeks and computer wizards.
Men to Match My Mountains by Irving Stone–The world of the Wild West; a readable history of Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and California.
Small Victories by Samuel Freedman–The scary world of public high school in New York City.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Van Auken–The world of a very special marriage.
The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain (and its sequels, The Three Edwards, The Magnificent Century, and The Last Plantagenets)–The world of medieval England and its royal family.

So there you have it, some of my very favorite nonfiction worlds.


  • […] orlds. These fantasy worlds were first encountered on the pages of books. Then, there are historical and sociological worlds that I visit mostly in books, too. Finally, there is the actua […]

  • My Boaz's Ruth says:

    I recently read Seabiscuit as well. YES to your reading of it as “Nonfiction that reads like fiction” Exactly. I’d like to find more history like that!
    (Oh and I’d never seen the movie. so it was all new to me)

  • Ariel says:

    Sea Biscuit sounds like a winner. So, is the book better than the movie? (Need I even ask? 🙂 A Severe Mercy is a favorite of mine, a profound read.

  • sherry says:

    I may have given a wrong impression. I haven’t seen the movie. Eldest Daughter saw it and liked it.

  • Carmon says:

    Just got done touching a bunch of my books, setting them upright on the shelves which are all installed. I have that entire set of Costain books, found a the thrift store a few months ago; I’ll have to add them to the “must read” pile. Same for Men to Match My Mountains, part of my collection of books about the West (with a focus on local history). I also have Seabiscuit (not read), A Severe Mercy (read) and the Kidder book (Steve read). I can’t wait to sit in my new library and read, read, read!!

  • Marla says:

    A Severe Mercy is the only book I’ve read (besides the Bible) more than twice, but oddly not since I experienced deep loss or since I’ve been married. But it remains in my top five books of all time.

  • Semicolon says:

    […] I read this book last week and thought it gave a beautiful, but very sad, picture of life in India for many people. It’s the story of a poor family, a fourth daughter who, because she has no dowry, cannot marry well but must settle for marriage to a landless tenant farmer who brings her home to a mud hut he built himself. Fortunately for the girl, Rukmani, her husband Nathan is “poor in everything but in love and care for me, his wife, whom he took at the age of twelve.” Rukmani narrates the story in first person, telling of the birth of her daughter, the long wait during which the couple think they will have no more children, and then the birth of her five sons. The village where the family lives is on the edge of poverty and starvation; a bad year with too much rain or too little rain will push Rukmani’s family over the edge. Change and new economic oportunities come to the village; however, these new ideas and possibilities are full of danger too, for peasants who have nothing in reserve and are unable or unwilling to move with the times. I wrote about a month ago about some of my favorite fantasy worlds. These fantasy worlds were first encountered on the pages of books. Then, there are historical and sociological worlds that I visit mostly in books, too. Finally, there is the actual world. I’ve never been to India or China or South America, but I have a picture of what life in those lands is (or was) like–again, from books. I think that Nectar in a Sieve, first published in 1954, will become a large part of my picture of India, along with missionary stories, the young man I met a few years ago at Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference, and other sources, such as the women I see at the grocery store here in Clear Lake dressed in saris. Warning: The book has a bittersweet ending, but it’s realistic without being hopeless and depressing. Excellent. These are some of my favorite books that have given me a picture of the world. Most of them are fiction. Around the world in books: South Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope both by Alan Paton India: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan China: Imperial Woman by Pearl S.Buck, The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang Antarctica: Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle The Netherlands: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom England (Yorkshire): All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot Lebanon: Alice by ? Doerr Russia: The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (And, of course, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, although they’re more historical) Israel: Exodus by Leon Uris Hawaii: Hawaii by James Michener […]

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