Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs

Oh, A.J. Jacobs always makes me laugh. And often makes me think. Whether he’s striving to follow every precept in the Bible, or attempting to assimilate the sum total of world knowledge, he’s invariably entertaining and readable. Yes, I do blame him for the “I did something quirky for a year and got a book contract” phenomenon (and, in my proudest moment ever as a book blogger, Jacobs commented here to apologize for starting that trend) but he does it so much better than most of his imitators. So I wasn’t about to bypass the opportunity to read about Jacobs’ attempts to become the healthiest man alive by following every principle of healthy living he could find — even the ones that flatly contradicted each other.

So he follows several different diet plans, from the raw-food vegan diet to the caveman all-meat diet; he experiments with every imaginable form of exercise, including completing a triathalon; he meditates to reduce stress, wears noise-cancelling headphones, and consults everyone from doctors and dieticians to his ninety-six-year-old grandfather and his health-nut aunt who sees deadly toxins under every plastic shower curtain.

There’s a lot of genuinely sensible advice mixed in with a healthy dose of craziness, and, as with Jacobs’ book on the Bible, there’s serious attention given to the problem of how to choose the correct path when surrounded by so many seemingly contradictory pieces of advice. There’s nothing scholarly about this book: it’s an Everyman’s guide to navigating a world we all find increasingly confusing and difficult. Are eggs good or bad for you? What about jogging? Bread? Eight glasses of water? The competing voices of those claiming to have the secret to a healthy life can overwhelm the average person to the point where they just give up. In this book, Jacobs doesn’t give up — he listens, talks to people, sometimes mocks them gently, tries even their most extreme suggestions, and emerges with some common-sense rules that he applies to help him live a healthier life.

He balances his own story of attempting to become healthier with the poignant deaths of two family members that occur during the two years researching and writing the book. These scenes remind us that no matter how hard we try to live a healthy life, death gets us all in the end — but that’s no reason not to try to live life to the fullest while we’re here. Family life makes frequent appearances in this book, as Jacobs attempts to apply his health rules to his three young sons and sometimes (when she’s willing) to his long-suffering wife Julie, who by now (based on anecdotes in this and the previous books) must surely be a candidate for sainthood, or whatever the secular Jewish equivalent is. Most of us would not want to attempt everything Jacobs attempts in this book — nor live with someone who does — but it’s great to have a writer as engaging and witty as Jacobs to forge the path for us, clear some of the underbrush, and demonstrate that living a healthier life really is possible.

He almost convinced me to get a treadmill desk. But walking around wearing huge noise-cancelling headphones? Ain’t gonna happen.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- general, Nonfiction -- memoir

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