Run!: 26.2 Stories Of Blisters And Bliss
Dean Karnazes
Rodale Books, 2011, 272 pages

DEAN KARNAZES TAKES a whole new approach with his latest book simply titled RUN! His first book told his story about becoming an ultramarathon runner, and it reached New York Times bestseller status immediately. His second book, titled 50/50, highlighted his quest to run 50 marathons in 50 days in all 50 States. Truly, his nickname as the Ultramarathon Man has reached epic proportions. Nevertheless, the nickname is grounded in his amazing endurance, and this book only fuels his noteworthy accomplishments.

Bill Rodgers, winner of the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, claims “Dean is not an athlete of clichés but a man who deeply inhabits his life as a runner. He does that with a really solid sense of humor and an understanding that life and running can be very entertaining!”

While the book certainly entertains, it doesn’t have the same gusto as his first two. RUN! isn’t a narrative with a concise or consecutive theme —it’s really just a collection of stories cobbled together to make exactly 26.2 chapters. Most of the stories contain some good moments of triumph or camaraderie or adventure, but sadly many of the chapters felt like they were the leftovers from the previous books. It almost seemed like some stories stretched over multiple chapters in order to meet the marathon mileage tally.

The strongest chapters in the book include the profiles of unique training partners, the time he attempted to run 100 miles on a treadmill in Times Square, and the unbelievable 4 Deserts Race Series. The 4 Deserts consisted of races across Atacama, the Gobi desert, the Sahara desert, and the largest desert in the world, Antarctica, all in the same year. The weaker chapters include a few pages written by his wife, an interview with his kids, and some motivational chapters that read like they were borrowed from passionate speeches rather than a running story.

If you’re a runner and you liked his first two books, then you’re probably going to appreciate this one. If you read Born To Run, and you want to read another amazing ultramarathon story, then read one of his first two books.

Jon Jonckers

 

The Magnetic North
Sara Wheeler
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011, 315 pages
Banff Mountain Book Festival, Best Book: Adventure Travel

AS THE BOOK’S TITLE implies, The Magnetic North is about both the north polar region of our planet and the attraction the area has for adventurers. Wheeler’s effort goes beyond being a chronicle of arctic adventure to reveal the cultures that existed in the North before Europeans and their North American offshoots intervened.

Most of Wheeler’s stories begin as tales of “Western” actions to explore and extract the resources of the Arctic; they eventually reveal the effect of this intervention on the native cultures. As Wheeler writes, “Every nation devastates native cultures, even if it doesn’t actually kill every one off. Russians did it with bureaucracy, Americans with money, Canadians (in the end) with kindness. Swedes and Finns did it with chainsaws that chopped down forests. And everyone did it with booze and syphilis. Acculturation is a theme of The Magnetic North. It is a grim story…”

In eleven essays, Wheeler blends history, exploration and development (read exploitation) with the current status of the indigenous cultures into tales of arctic regions around the globe. Her descriptions are so fluid that one rarely notices the compound complex sentences common in the text. She is also careful to explain the many oceanography terms that sneak into the book as she explains climate impacts.

In one experience, she visits several arctic islands while on a Russian cruise icebreaker. She notes, “It was difficult to reconcile the happy images of a pleasure cruise with the threat of global inundation as the ice melted. Somewhere in the distance one heard the strains of a band playing on. Hope was one thing. Refusing to listen was another…Moral misgiving notwith tanding, I relished the luxuries of cruising after reindeer—hoof dinners and the challenges of camping at -22 ° F.”

In the end Wheeler does a splendid job of contrasting the “Slow growth and long life (that) are characteristic of Arctic organisms” with the rapid change brought about in the last half century. The reader is exposed to both the changing climate in the north and what was, is and may be the “culture of the north.”

Stan Miller