Seabiscuit: An American Legend

by Laura Hillenbrand

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How historically accurate is the story of Seabiscuit?

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The story of Seabiscuit has inspired numerous books and films. The first film about America's most celebrated horse appeared in 1938, while he was still alive. Most recently, Seabiscuit's story has been told in Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling book Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), which was adapted into a major motion picture, released in 2003.

Hillenbrand's historical research was meticulous and was singled out for praise in many reviews of her book. Her depiction of the events in Seabiscuit's career is very accurate indeed. However, some readers, and even critics, seem to have been confused by the style of the book, which is much closer to that of a novel than a conventional historical account. Hillenbrand employs the style of an omniscient narrator, telling us what her characters are thinking and feeling, even though they happen to have been real people. In this sense, her account cannot possibly be altogether accurate, and it ultimately resembles a historical novel. The author also uses her imagination in reconstructing dialogue which occurred in private.

Most ahistorical of all is Hillenbrand's anthropomorphism in the depiction of Seabiscuit himself. She often tells us that the horse (along with other horses in the book) was "amused" or "had a gleam in his eye." This anthropomorphism and exploration of Seabiscuit's perspective often reminds the reader of Black Beauty, obscuring the fact that the actual events in the narrative are described with scrupulous accuracy.

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