Two great books about male PhDs, fitness, and obsession

1. One of my very favourite memoirs is Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder by Samuel Fussell (yes, son of Paul Fussell). Published in 1992, it’s the story of an English PhD who turns to body building post degree, loves the life, quits (read the book to find out why) then writes a book about it.

At age 26, scrawny, Oxford-educated Samuel Fussell entered a YMCA gym in New York to escape the terrors of big city life.Four years and 80 lbs. of firm, bulging muscle later, he was competing for bodybuilding titles in the “Iron Mecca” of Southern California-so weak from intense training and starvation he could barely walk. MUSCLE is the harrowing, often hilarious chronicle of Fussell’s divine obsession, his search for identity in a bizarre, eccentric world of “health fascists,” “gym bunnies” and “muscleheads”-and his devout, single-minded acceptance of illness, pain, nausea, and steroid-induced rage in his quest for the holy grail of physical perfection.

2. I mentioned Muscle to one of the senior black belts at our Aikido club and he recommended Angry White Pyjamas. 

I can see why one book brought the other to mind. The two books have a lot in common. The genre is English-PhD-drops-everything-academic-gets physical-writes a memoir about his experiences.

Here’s the publisher’s description of Angry White Pyjamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons From The Tokyo Riot Police by Robert Twigger

Adrift in Tokyo, translating obscene rap lyrics for giggling Japanese high school girls, “thirtynothing” Robert Twigger comes to a revelation about himself: He has never been fit nor brave. Guided by his roommates, Fat Frank and Chris, he sets out to cleanse his body and mind. Not knowing his fist from his elbow, the author is drawn into the world of Japanese martial arts, joining the Tokyo Riot Police on their yearlong, brutally demanding course of “budo” training, where any ascetic motivation soon comes up against bloodstained “white pyjamas” and fractured collarbones. In “Angry White Pyjamas, ” Twigger blends, the ancient with the modern–the ultratraditionalism, ritual, and violence of the dojo (training academy) with the shopping malls, nightclubs, and scenes of everyday Tokyo life in the 1990s–to provide a brilliant, bizarre glimpse of life in contemporary Japan.

Can you think of any other books in this genre?

How about with a PhD in some other subject or are only English PhDs so inclined to take up sports and then write about it?

Or books by women who get obsessed in this way and then write about it?

One thought on “Two great books about male PhDs, fitness, and obsession

  1. Mark Law’s book on judo, The Pyjama Game aka Falling Hard is in a very similar vein.

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