Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

He's not exactly the he-man type

For my first post on The Family Addiction, I'm going out of my "norm" and doing a non-fiction book. Normally I'm all about mysteries, but A.J. Jacobs was brought to my attention through my Vine reviewer status, and I've enjoyed all of his books, including this latest offering.

A.J. Jacobs is an editor-at-large for Esquire and writes for it frequently. He is also the best-selling author of three other books in the same genre. A.J. doesn't exactly just research and write. He makes himself over, usually over the course of a year or so, on some (hare-brained?) scheme and writes about those experiences with humor and humility. I highly recommend his Know-It-All, where he attempts to read the Encylopaedia Brittanica from cover to cover, and his The Year of Living Biblically, where he tries to follow all the rules in the Bible and the Torah over the course of a year. However, we're talking about Drop Dead Healthy today, in which he takes two years total to try to become "the healthiest man alive."

Mr. Jacobs first begins his quest feeling like a bit of a slug, "mushy" and out of shape. He knows he needs to improve his nutrition, but what else? He gathers a team of doctors to help advise him on how to become the healthiest man alive - or, at least, the healthiest man he can be, and that includes thoughts on skull safety, podiatry, hearing loss, weight loss and exercise, heart and lung health, etc.

He understands that it's hard to tackle everything at once, so what we get is about a chapter per month on different aspects of health and trying different theories and methods to attain it. For example, when he decides to tackle the immune system aspect, he does talk to two different doctors - one who advocates lots of hand-washing and sanitizer, and one who is of the school of thought that we are hurting our natural immunity by creating super-germs.

What this means is that he does really impressive research for each and every aspect of the book, but it reads like humor, and he's never totally dismissive even of the most "out there" ideas he finds. He does make fun of himself from time to time, and maybe of some quirks of the practitioners of the various methods, but he never dismisses their ideas as "crazy" and I think that shows respect and heart.

However, since this is humor, he does often visit the extreme ends of any given area. He visits a trainer who does Caveman workouts in Central Park, and he visits a trainer who believes that you get just as much benefit from 20 minutes a week of exhausting your muscles with heavy weights as you do with hours of cardio. He tries several different methods to stop snoring, some of them just from infomercials. He practices Finger Fitness and wears a Pedestrian Helmet everywhere for a month. But, with everything, he does quote extensive studies and has pretty impressive facts, and you realize again how much work he put into this book.

Each chapter ends with a monthly checkup - including his weight, but also other silly-yet-relevant facts like (for Month 24):
Weight -159
Dogs Petted - 12
Minutes singing per day (possible stress reliever) - 10
Days practiced didgeridoo - 2
Frog calls memorized to keep brain sharp - 9

As an underlying plot, during his two years of health quests, he continually visits his obviously adored grandfather, whose health is steadily declining. It offers an interesting juxtaposition - while A.J. is trying to get healthy, his grandfather is facing the inevitable end for all of us, even those who are as healthy as possible.

He is significantly healthier by the end of the book, and there are several appendices of tips for both "normal" and "obsessed" people to take away from his research. He doesn't come to any one big conclusion, but there is real knowledge to be gained here, and many, many laughs to be had along the way.

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