As I’ve said before, I rarely read non-fiction. Purely personal preference. When I do read non-fiction, it tends to be of the literary sort. And if it’s not literary, then I like my non-fiction to both educate and entertain me, as with my current read: Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs.
Jacobs is known for his “projects.” For one book, he spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. For another, he tried to live by the Bible–literally. This time he’s completing the mind-soul-body triad by spending two years attempting to become as healthy as possible. No small task, when most health advice is contradictory and sometimes scientifically wobbly. All the same, it’s another enjoyable outing with entertaining writing, a few revelations, and lots of fun facts about the human body.
Holden Caulfield once said, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” That’s how I feel about A.J. Jacobs. Except I think we’d be Facebook friends, and when I was done reading his book I’d post a little Hey, good job, I liked your book! Thanks for writing it! sort of message on his Wall.
I really enjoy Jacobs’ writing style–it’s conversational and fun, with a few inspired turns of phrase here and there. I’ve read his books The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible numerous times. The Year of Living Biblically, in particular, is my favorite of his, and I think it’s the best example of everything that’s great about his brand of immersion journalism. Passion for the subject, dedication to the cause, poignancy and humor–it’s all there.
It’s all there in Drop Dead Healthy, too. It was a major project, and a lot to cover in just two years, but I think he handled it well. It’s a survey course in contemporary views of health and medicine in America, more or less, and I certainly learned a few things. Altogether, the book is at its best when Jacobs is being reflective, especially where his family is concerned.
Here’s the TED Talk that Jacobs gave about his year of healthy living. He also explains a bit about his quest for self-improvement. This talk gives you a good sense of what his books and projects are all about, as well as a pretty good indicator of his overall style.
If you’re a fan of Bill Bryson (Notes From a Small Island or I’m A Stranger Here Myself in particular), give Jacobs a try. Even if you’re not a fan of Bill Bryson, give Jacobs a try. My personal favorite is The Year of Living Biblically, as I mentioned, but The Know-It-All is also fantastic.
Confidential to A.J. Jacobs:
If you’re idly Googling your name and find this post, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your book. Thank you for writing it!