This is a book about exercise, without in the least being a book about how to exercise.

This is not a “to do” book, but rather a fascinating exploration of the science and the biology behind exercise.

In the writer’s own words:

“…this book is as much for exercise enthusiasts as it is for those who are exercised about exercise and struggle to do it.”

You see, Mr. Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist, and he approaches the topic of whether or not we should exercise, whether or not we need to exercise, and how best to exercise, from this evolutionary starting point – “we never evolved to exercise.”

Mr. Lieberman is a wonderful writer – hope it doesn’t sound pretentious when I say that his prose is a thing of joy – and he wears his erudition lightly. Despite my being a self-professed “no good at maths and science” (as my long-ago O-level grades would indicate) I relished this book, finding it an absorbing, compelling read. The author is a constant, friendly, funny companion as he guides us through the science, the myths, and the facts about the human relationship with exercise.

The book opens with aplomb, with Mr. Lieberman taking a treadmill to Kenya, to try and assess how subsistence-level farmers there walk. His experiment is a flop and “the treadmill was an illuminating mistake.” This opening anecdote sets the tone for the book – curious, never taking himself too seriously, and always ready to admit mistakes and re-think things.

He studies African hunter-gatherers, wryly observes Ironman participants, compares dancing and ultra-running, and questions just about every platitude about exercise that exists.

He is also very funny:

My wife’s grandmother so dearly wanted to be a great-grandmother that she offered us thousand dollars to have a child before we were married. We politely declined the offer…

“As my wife points out, the biggest risk of exercising too much is ruining your marriage, to which I would add that the biggest risk of not exercising too little is not being around long enough to enjoy your marriage.”

I found the book to be illuminating, informative and oh-so-readable. Furthermore, in these worrying Covid days, lucid explanations about the consequences of exercise on our physical and mental health are important.

Highly recommended.

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