The global parcel service providers are crowded to the limit, but it’s not too late to present the gift of knowledge this holiday season. Simply call a local bookstore near your donor’s address and ask them to set aside a copy of one of the following books. Or, even better, order a pair for yourself. This winter, more than any other, is a good time to roll up on the couch next to a large stack of books and stay indoors (except, of course, during a daily workout or adventure).
List rules: These are the books I liked this year. Some are old, some are new and some are still coming. They usually coincide with the topics in the “Science of sweat” section —science, endurance, fitness, adventure—but sometimes the connection is quite thin. More ideas can be found in the autumn list of books I compiled in September.
‘Bush Runner,’ by Mark Bourrie
You may or may not remember, but most Canadian children in high school history class get to know Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medar de Grosei, a pair of 17th century French fur traders. They are famous for having, by taking the side of the British, helped to found the Hudson Bay Company, which played a major role in the settlement of Canada. But it turns out that historical texts vastly underestimate the epic scope of Radisson’s life, which includes the capture and then adoption of the Mohawk family, the repeated double crossing of French and English, the landing of pirates in Spain and the shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. “He is the Forrest gump of his time,” Burri writes. – He is everywhere.”And even better-he wrote plenty of diaries about his adventures. The stories about the first colonizers of North America sound a little different these days, and Radisson was clearly not an unblemished hero. But Burry’s book (which won the prestigious Canadian Prize for non-artistic Literature earlier this year) gave me the most vivid picture of that era.
‘Endurance Performance in Sport: Psychological Theory and Interventions,’ edited by Carla Meijen
In my book Patience, I examined the role of the mind in determining our physical limits and wrote about new evidence that psychological interventions, such as motivational speaking to oneself, can have measurable effects on performance. After the publication of the book, I had many questions about which resources are best used to put these ideas into practice, but at that time I did not have a good science-based answer. Meyens book, which contains the materials of some of the most prominent researchers in this field, fills this gap. It contains many theoretical basics as well as chapters and examples of exercises on the main psychological interventions for endurance athletes, including talking to yourself, mindfulness, visualization, goal setting and concentration. To be clear, it’s not a windy pop-psychological book-the atmosphere (and the price) are more reading. But if you want to delve deeper into the current state of knowledge about sports psychology for endurance athletes, then this is the source.
‘The Moth and the Mountain,’ by Ed Caesar
The capsule version of this story is as follows: Damaged British World War I veteran Maurice Wilson carries a wildly unrealistic plan to fly to the foot of Everest on a rickety biplane and climb the summit, but fails. Even on the surface you can imagine that it could be a decent adventure story with a time capsule, but in Caesar’s hands it gets much bigger. If you’ve read Caesar’s 2015 book about the two-hour marathon, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. He is a wonderful and thoughtful writer looking for meanings beneath the surface. And this particular story seems to have an unexpected meaning for Caesar, whose father died in a helicopter accident when he was two years old. Check out this latest New Yorker article to get some information about the book and try Caesar’s prose, and read Eva Holland’s review of Outside.
‘Everest: The First Ascent,’ by Harriet Tuckey
I know, I know you’ve read a billion books about Everest. But if you haven’t read this 2014 book, you’ll miss much of what Hillary and Norgay did successfully in 1953, when so many similar expeditions failed before them. This is a report on the work of Griffith Pew, a prickly scientist who has developed oxygen equipment, acclimatization protocols, diet, down clothing, shoes, tents, stoves, and even inflatable expedition beds. It is also a window into the turbulent expedition policy to Everest and the cultural engagement of the amateur gentlemen with new scientific knowledge and professionalism—a clash that Pew has actually erased from history. It is written by Pew’s daughter, but it is by no means an uncritical portrait. If you are interested in the science of mountaineering, then this is the right decision.
‘Running the Dream, by Matt Fitzgerald
It’s always hard to narrow your selection down to a Matt Fitzgerald title in a given year—it’s just so productive. His new book, published this month, is called “Return Ratio” and has gained additional significance in light of his recent revelation that he is struggling with what he suspects to be a case of post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. But my favorite title of Fitzgerald 2020 is actually the one he published in May, about the summer he spent with the NAZ Elite as a “fake professional athlete” in his mid-40s verbrachte.Es is a fun, fast read with an insightful understanding of what professionals do differently and how we unknowingly restrict ourselves.
‘Your Day, Your Way,’ by Timothy Caulfield
Frankly, I prefer the Canadian title of this book-relax, damn it! A Guide to the Age of Anxiety, in American, Your Day, Your Way: The Facts and fiction behind Your daily choices. Caulfield is a Canadian scientist and prominent garbage scientist: one of his earlier books is called ” Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong in everything?”. His new book, whatever you call it, is based on decisions you make during the day-when you wake up, what you eat for breakfast, whether you sit directly in the seat of a public toilet, and so on. D.-Exploration of the various forces that make up our actions and the evidence that informs (or contradicts) them. But unlike the spirit of the American title, it doesn’t really tell us how to live. He asks us to dig a little deeper and to understand how all these decisions have become so fraught and to calm down about it.
‘Run the World,’ by Becky Wade
A full year after graduating from Rice University, elite runner Becky Wade traveled the world on a Watson scholarship and immersed herself in distant running cultures. In the end, she visited 22 different countries and joined local running clubs and training groups in countries such as Ethiopia, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland. The result was Run the World, a travelogue published in 2016 (yes, I was a bit late for the party), at which time she was already a 2:30 marathon runner who had a professional running career. She not only walks around today, but also works as a freelance journalist and contributes to notable publications such as these. She obviously has many talents, and it turns out that one of them makes the right friends in foreign countries. Although the timeline means it’s never in one place for very long, it manages to penetrate deep enough into many of them to capture what makes each place’s running culture unique. If you are a fan of Adharanand Finn’s books, you will love them.
‘The Splendid and the Vile,’ by Erik Larsen
It’s a bit of a wild choice, but you could argue that it’s an endurance story. Larsen approaches an almost daily account of Winston Churchill’s first 12 months as Prime Minister of Britain-a period that included the height of the blitz and the most dangerous moments of World War II. Despite everything, she was destined to become a bestseller, but the time of her release—at the end of February this year—somehow gave her additional resonance. However, I do not want to turn this into an allegory about leadership and collective sacrifice in times of crisis. The bottom line is that it’s just a great story that’s well told, even if you know the end. And these talk!
I would also like to mention three titles that will not be released before Christmas, but which are worth putting on your radar.
The recurring phrase in Daniel Lieberman’s new book ” Why Something We have Never developed for is Useful and Useful “(to be published on January 5) sounds like this: “But it makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective.”Many things related to fitness and health are confusing: why, for example, are we so prone to laziness during the day when we know we need to exercise, and yet we struggle to sleep as much as ‘should’? But when we look at the environment in which we have evolved, these mysteries begin to gain importance. This does not mean that this is another manifesto of the caveman lifestyle. (“Another annoying extreme,” Lieberman notes at one point, “are the”born runners.” Instead, his message is similar to that of Timothy Caulfield: we must end the obsession and debate about the only” right “way of life, because neither evolution nor modern science deliver it.
From the same corner of the scientific world comes Hermann Pontzer’s burning: a new study puts the lid on how we burn calories, stay healthy and lose weight (published on March 2). The subtitle is a full mouth, but it’s not as hyperbolic as it seems: Pontzer’s research has actually taken a whole new look at how our metabolism works. He is an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University and I have written about his research several times, most recently last year, when he and his colleagues suggested that our digestive tract dictates the limits of lengthy endurance trials lasting several weeks. His best-known theory, based on the measurements of Haza hunters in Tanzania, is that our metabolism adapts to maintaining a roughly constant calorie burn, no matter how much we exercise. I was skeptical of this idea, but was intrigued when I read about it in the broader context of the years of research he describes. It is a great book about an active field of science and it is also fun to read.
And one last book with an evolutionary approach: Comfort Crisis: Accept the discomfort to regain your wild, happy, healthy self, which comes out on May 11th. What does it mean that we are now drifting through life, almost never as too hot, too cold, too hungry, too physically exhausted, too dirty or too bored? The journey from Easter to self-discovery, told through an epic five-week hunt in the Alaska Outback, mercifully liberates evolutionary wonder cures and magical thinking. Instead, the book is a thoughtful study of how and why we sometimes want to look for discomfort.
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