Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Originally posted this review on Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run on birthdayshoes.com:

Christopher McDougall Born to Run
Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run

I challenge anyone to read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen and not be inspired—to run, to be healthy, to be, well just, better.

Born to Run is about McDougall’s investigative adventure into the world of running, ultramarathons, the shoe industry, and the Tarahumara Indians, a seclusive group of “superathletes” known for their running endurance and speed. The tale begins with a question, “How come my foot hurts?” and ends with a race between a few elite ultrarunners and the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. In between are a number of answers, questions, and challenges.

It was difficult to put Born to Run down. The book is simultaneously thrilling and informative. It not only recaptures the excitement of past distance running races (like the 1995 Leadville 100), but it also tells the backstories of BtR‘s protagonists — Ann Trason, Ken Chlouber, Caballo Blanco (or “Micah True”), “Barefoot Ted” McDonald, Scott Jurek, Jenn “Mookie” Shelton and Billy “Bonehead” Barnett. Even still, the book serves as an indictment of the running shoe industry, specifically Nike, while also laying out a compelling case that human beings evolved to be runners—chasing prey down, out-enduring them via the persistence hunt. At under 300 pages Born to Run, like the runners and races it describes, covers a lot of ground quickly.

Perhaps one of the most inspirational paragraphs from Born to Run contains the book’s title:

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our “passions” and “desires”—it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

Born to Run is one of those rare books that captures within its pages an authentic human experience and conveys that experience directly to the reader. It’s a book in which you are awed by superhuman athletes while still seeing their core humanity. And therein is one of McDougall’s primary takeaways: every human being was born to run, the design being coded within our DNA.

Since this book review is for the Vibram fivefingers fan community, I’d be remiss not to note that BtR gives a hearty mention regarding VFFs, specifically via Barefoot Ted, who apparently inspired Vibram USA’s CEO, Tony Post, to go for a run in his fivefingers. I’m guessing this was back in early 2006. “El Mono” (Barefoot Ted) also made use of his fivefingers at various times during his trek to race with the Tarahumara. And as previously noted on this site, Christopher McDougall seems to enjoy his fivefingers for running these days, too.

Conclusion: BtR is a fantastic read, and I whole-heartedly recommend it. More than anything, I expect this book to spawn the next generation of runners, and I’m optimistic that it will take barefooting (or pseudo-barefooting/minimalist footwear) mainstream. Born to Run is yet another step in a more general movement towards acquiring a higher understanding of what it means and requires to be human.

Thank you to Christopher McDougall for telling this tale: it needed to be told!

If you’d like to snag Born to Run, just click this link to pick it up from Amazon.com.

Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich


Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich

I read Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich whilst vacationing in Jamaica and am just now (Actual date, not finish date per this review is July 9, 2009!) getting to review it. I’m going to have to limit my review to a few quotes that I enjoyed from the book, the first of which is one that actually describes the structure of the book:

Being bushy by nature, this book will not give you a linear, step-by-step formula for health and fitness success. IT won’t provide you with a prescription or a checklist. It won’t reveal a secret antidote for aging or a breakthrough discovery for instant weight loss. Instead, this bushy material will open your mind to new possibilities, relationships and ideas that you can adapt to suite your own purposes. Most importantly, the ideas in this book will help you develop a sense of depth and sustainability in your life of physical movement. You’ll begin to realize that the world of the body is far more than one of sets, reps and calories. It is immensely rich and endlessly fascinating-an ideal life-long study.

About two paragraphs up from this one was the following great sentence:

“Specializations have their place, but they inevitably lead to fragmentation.”

I couldn’t agree more. And Exuberant Animal takes you on a “bushy,” generalist route through the mind and body. Each chapter essentially stands alone, so the book reads a bit like a series of articles. It’s a great primer for anyone interested in getting back to the core of being human — a core that is fundamentally animalistic, and, well, exuberant!

Another quote I liked from a chapter titled “Learning learning:”

“I hear you,” agreed the philosopher. “The specialists have run amok. They do one thing really well, but they can never get to the other side of the oscillation. Fragmented disciplines, isolated studies. One trick-ponies. No one goes meta anymore. Conservatives are tightening the screws at every level. Multi-disciplinary studies are out of fashion and so no one can see the big picture. When you’re a specialist, taking the big view just isn’t part of your job description. and if you can’t see the big picture, you’re not going to adopt a rhythm. More likely, you’ll live and teach in a rut.”

And finally a quote from a chapter titled “Stop Drawing Horses:”

Find out your awkwardness. Figure out what you’re good at and then—Just Do the Opposite. Go towards your awkwardness, go towards your fear, go towards your instability, your errors and your ignorance.

All “bushy” quotes, no?

There’s a lot more in this book, and I’m giving this review short shrift simply because if I don’t get it out there, I’ll never get it up. If you’re at all interested in getting in touch with your humanity, I recommend picking up Exuberant Animal, a book about a holistic, mind-body life philosophy.

Frank Forencich has been at the forefront of the movement for humans to get in touch with their nature, and if you just want to plug in to what’s up to, be sure to check out his website:

http://www.exuberantanimal.com/

Constructive Living by David Reynolds


Constructive Living by David Reynolds

I picked up a used copy (the book is out of print) of Constructive Living by David Reynolds after reading a comment from James Hogan on Patri Friedman’s livejournal.

The book bills itself on the cover: “Outgrow shyness, depression, fear, stress, grief, chronic pain. Achieve the goal of Constructive Living—to do everything well.

At around 100 pages in length, the book is a quick read that essentially admonishes you to act your way into a better life. In keeping with my fascination/recent obsession with doing over thinking as well as Glasser’s Control Theory and Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, CL was right up my alley.

Part of CL is about paying attention to your life. To some extent, it seems a bit like a “living in the moment” sort of mantra; however, I think the idea is much more poignant/specific than that. If I could sum up CL in one sentence, I’d clumsily suggest that constructive living is “Acknowledging your feelings and then taking control of what you are doing.”

It’s in the doing that you can outgrow your feelings. There’s a maxim somewhere in the book that has managed to stick in my brain:

“Doing wags the tail of feelings.”

To elaborate somewhat on this quote, we can’t control our feelings. And since I can’t control what I’m feeling, I also can’t control the feelings of those I care about. What I can do is control my behavior. I can do something—anything. By doing, I can change my situation, which will almost always ultimately change my feelings.

We are only what we do. So doing is not just about taking control, it’s also a rejection of wishing, wanting, can’ting, or any other type of behavior that is non-constructive. I can dream about wanting to be successful all day — those dreams may be fun to imagine, but they do nothing to advance my state.

Here’s a memorable quote from the book that somewhat deals with the idea of dreaming and doing:

The first step in changing reality is to recognize it as it is now. There is no need to wish it were otherwise. It simply is. Pleasant or not, it is. Then comes behavior that acts on the present reality. Behavior can change what is. We may have visions of what will be. We cannot (and need not) prevent these dreams. But the visions won’t change the future. Action—in the present—changes the future. A trip of ten thousand miles starts out with one step, not with a fantasy about travel.

Indeed!

Constructive Living includes a number of exercises at the end of the book that work to refocus your life on doing. Not surprisingly, one of the exercises is exercising. Exercising is a fundamental way to act in a positive way and can work to change your feelings. Incidentally, he also suggests preparing your own meals. It’s interesting (to me) that over the past couple years, amidst a number of things I could not control, two things I’ve returned to over and over again have been cooking and exercise, which are really two core things that make you feel like a competent and capable human being.

CL has a distinct buddhist undertone. Another maxim in the book is that “self-centeredness is suffering,” which is less about being selfish and more about focusing your attention outward instead of dwelling on your own feelings. CL is actually based on Morita Therapy, a treatment that emerged out of Japan.

For such a short book, CL is worth re-reading. Even in its simplicity it has a great deal to digest, and I’m pretty sure I missed a few things.

Coincidentally, Penelope Trunk blogged on How to have more Self-Discipline the other day, and I’d recommend her post for a complimentary expression of Constructive Living (though I have no reason to believe that Penelope Trunk has read this book, there is a lot of great overlap in her post, which is also much better written than this scribbled out book review!).

The New Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish

The New Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish

Prompted by impending fatherhood, I picked up Scott Mactavish’s The New Dad’s Survival Guide from Amazon. At only around 130 pages, Survival Guide is a tiny book relative to the growing library of pregnancy and baby books that we are rapidly accumulating these days (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, anyone?). Survival Guide is a brief overview of what to expect out of pregnancy and early child-rearing, all laced with humor and presented in a readily digestible format for us idiot fathers-to-be. The self-deprecation is only slightly tongue-in-cheek, as I feel clueless on a daily basis.

The Guide is helpful in some regards as it is such a smattering of content, even though told in brief, that it will certainly teach you something you hadn’t already heard. This is a plus.

It’s also a fun book in that it’s light-hearted, and us new dad’s need that kind of joviality given the seriousness of pregnancy (Que the thunderclap).

One thing I didn’t care for so much about the book is that it’s so basic, with large print and plenty of clip-art pictures (Not kidding), that sometimes it just seems like “what am I reading here.” But I shouldn’t have expected too much: the subtext of the cover is “Man-to-man advice for the first-time fathers / Secrets Revealed / Codes Broken / Babies Tamed.” However, given that I bought this book online, I wasn’t able to see these bits beforehand nor did I take the time to virtually flip through the pages. Had I done either, I’m not sure I would have picked it up.

But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have received such “Critical Survival Tips” as:

CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP

Attend childbirth education classes with the FPP. Doing so will prevent a major freak-out when a human pops out of your FPP’s private parts, as well as preparing you for your role as a birthing coach.

Or:

CRITICAL SURVIVAL TIP

Get accustomed to the breast pump prior to the birth. Examine it, even take it apart, because when it’s hooked up to your FPP and milk is shooting out like a dairy, you may lapse into shock or laugh so hard that a little pee comes out.

So all in all, it was a fun read and somewhat informative; indeed, some of the specific advice could be quite useful (like preparing for the trip to the hospital).

Afterward: If anyone has any must-read books for men on new-fatherhood, please let me know!

Seth Godin’s Advice on Writing a Book (Part 2)

http://sethgodin.typepad….e_for_auth.html

Below is Part 2 of Seth Godin’s advice on writing a book and publicizing your ideas, originally blogged in 2006, below are the bits of advice I found most insightful (Go here to see Part 1 of Seth Godin’s advice on authoring a book). The numbers may skip as I’m not quoting all 19 tips. Finally, tip 19 clearly has wider implications than merely writing a book. Expect a post on why you should blog soon!

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later. …

4. Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir, just a vessel for the ideas themselves. You don’t want the ideas to get stuck in the book… you want them to spread. Which means that you shouldn’t hoard the idea! The more you give away, the better you will do. …

12. Blog mentions . . . matter a lot. …

14. Consider the free PDF alternative. Some have gotten millions of downloads. No hassles, no time wasted, no trying to make a living on it. All the joy, in other words, without debating whether you should quit your day job (you shouldn’t!) …

19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.

(H/T Patri)

Seth Godin’s Advice on Writing a Book (Part 1)

http://sethgodin.typepad….e_for_auth.html

Seth Godin is a marketing guru who’s released a number of books — none of which I’ve had a chance to read. Regardless, Godin seems to have some good ideas upon which I continue to stumble, like two blog posts he wrote in 2005 and 2006 prescribing advice on authoring a book. Below are selected snippets from the 2005 post. I’ve also linked down my favorite parts of the 2006 advice.

1. Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.

The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed. . . .

3. There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher. . . .

Here’s the thing: publishing a book is really nothing but a socially acceptable opportunity to promote yourself and your ideas far and wide and often.

If you don’t promote it, no one will. . . .

4. Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.

Obvious, sure, but real problems. Real problems because the cost of a book introduces friction to your idea. It makes the idea spread much much more slowly than an online meme because in order for it to spread, someone has to buy it. Add to that the growing (and sad) fact that people hate to read. . . .

So, what’s my best advice?

Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or…

Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet . . .

Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they’re not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

(H/T Patri)

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Seneca, like other Stoics, has a doctrine of nature that is remarkably close to that of Emerson or modern American environmentalists. The wise man (sapiens) will never be bored when contemplating the simple things of nature. The natural beauty of the countryside and the healthful action of the waves can have a calming effect . . . He also believed in the simple and strenuous life and the avoidance of luxury and decadence, and there are numerous passages . . . which decry the ostentatious, self indulgent practices of his contemporaries . . . Seneca has no patience for philosophy as a word game or a practice of engaging in hair-splitting arguments for their own sake. He rather sees it as a practice or way of life that all those who seek the good should investigate and adopt.

(From a helpful Amazon review)

Finished Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I’ve only casually understood the Stoic philosophy prior to reading this book. As the above review notes, Seneca is concerned with making peace with death and living in accordance with nature. Seneca frequently cites the benefits of philosophy, which should be practical and useful. Fortune is something that should be looked on with ambivalence — neither should we get enamored when our luck is good nor depressed when bad. Happiness is a state of mind. I’m not positive, but it seems to me that Seneca originated the idiom to “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” (See the quoted bit below).

The Letters are a quick read at only around 230 pages. If you are interested in some ancient wisdom from a Roman philosopher, you would likely enjoy this book. Below are some passages I particularly enjoyed from the book.

  • “Look at the amount of punishment that boxers and wrestlers take to the face and the body generally! They will put up none the less with any suffering in their desire for fame, and will undergo it all not merely in the course of fighting but in preparing for their fights as well: their training in itself constitutes suffering. Let us too overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet-calls for silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won for ever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated.”
  • “Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen; but I do know what’s capable of happening . . . I’m ready for everything. If I’m let off in any way, I’m pleased. . . . for just as I know that anything is capable of happening so also do I know that it’s not bound to happen. So I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite.”
  • “Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and the highest alike, then make your peace again with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties. There’s no justification for using our graves and all the variety of monuments we see bordering the highways as a measure of our stature. In the ashes all men are leveled. We’re born unequal, we die equal.”
  • “Death you’ll think of as the worst of all bad things, though in fact there’s nothing bad about it at all except the thing which comes before it – the fear of it.”
  • “For those who follow nature everything is easy and straightforward, whereas for those who fight against her life is just like rowing against the stream.”
  • “One used to think that the type of person who spreads tales was as bad as any: but there are persons who spread vices. And association with them does a lot of damage.”
  • “No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing. No value should be set on it: it’s something we share with dumb animals – the minutest, most insignificant creatures scutter after it. Glory’s an empty, changeable thing, as fickle as the weather. Poverty’s no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.”

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

It took me a shamefully long time to complete A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson — multiple months, in which I even put it down for long periods of time and read other books (For shame!).

The book is a monstrous undertaking that serves as an overview of all time (going back to the Big Bang and advancing to the present), covering all areas of science in the process.

Though an educational read, the book can drag on at times. One unexpected gem Bryson embeds in this book is in his ability to depict the discoverers and scientists as flawed, sometimes eccentric, often under-(if at all)-appreciated human beings. On one level, it is empowering to realize what amazing discoveries were made by self-taught, self-made scientists. Nowadays, it seems you have to go to school for half your life to study a subject and maybe publish a paper that is important outside the narrow niche of your own subject. This hasn’t always been the case, and Bryson illustrates that truth wonderfully.

This idea is what stuck with me the most. Degrees don’t make for original thought or observation. In conjunction with having read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories, I’m reminded that scientists can often get so caught up within their narrow focus that they fail to string together bigger ideas. We’d do well to remember that discovery, observation and original thinking springs from following our own interests even as we don’t know where they’ll lead and even if they are obscure and boring to most everyone else!

Future Imperfect by David D. Friedman


Future Imperfect by David D. Friedman

Plowed through Future Imperfect by David D. Friedman during my last week in India. David Friedman is a legal scholar, economist, anarchist and cook, who happens to the be son of the late, great Milton Friedman. I’ve previously read DDF’s Machinery of Freedom and Law’s Order. I also subscribe to DDF’s blog, the blandly titled Ideas. Future Imperfect is an overview of a slew of emerging technologies that could drastically change (or already are changing) our lives. From bio-tech, cloning, nano-tech and life extension to encryption, virtual reality and even space elevators, Friedman covers a lot of ground.

It’s a fun read that is actually available for free as an ebook (by download) compliments of DDF. You’ll have to find the link though as I bought the book. I’m old school like that I guess.

A fun, exciting, and sometimes troubling read into any number of possible futures for humanity, I heartily recommend Future Imperfect. I also recommend Friedman’s other non-fiction works (Harald wasn’t my cup of tea) as they are all eye-opening, paradigm-shifting and excellent.