I am a big fan of A.J. Jacobs’ writings. It all started for me with The Year of Living Biblically and Know It All. Jacobs’ latest book, Drop Dead Healthy, is another read that’s made my list of favorites from him.
For the uninitiated, Jacobs lives his life as if it were a combination of an experiment and living-art instillation. In Biblically and Know It All, Jacobs spent a year of his life devoted to his spiritual and intellectual health; in Biblically, Jacobs spent a year living my all the rules that could be found in the Bible from the big ones (that shall not kill) to the less relevant ones (i.e. feel free to stone adulterers). In Know It All, Jacobs spent the year reading through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Both books come with a wealth of personal stories that are at once humorous and emotionally sincere. Ever since I’ve read them, I haunt the shelves of Chapters waiting for Jacobs’ next release.
In Drop Dead Healthy, Jacobs takes up the same type of challenge, but this time he is concerned about his physical health. In the world we currently live in, you can’t go a week without hearing about the obesity epidemic in Western culture (complete with news stories full of B-roll of fat people shot from behind and the neck down walking – ps. I live in fear of recognizing my own ass one day….) or about the newest diet craze. Jacobs set out to be the healthiest specimen he could be – but his first task was how to figure out how to make that happen.
In true Jacobs-style, the reader is treated to the gamut of experiments that Jacobs went through in order to meet his goal. From the trendy gym classes/fitness crazes, to the diets, to the medical tests, the reader gets to go along with Jacobs as he test-drives the latest and greatest in how to get and stay healthy. From that summary, it might sound less than riveting, but when coupled with Jacobs’ intrinsic sense of self-deprecating and satirical humour, it’s an ode to all that is wrong with our culture’s obsession with image. In the end, I think the take away is simple; eat health, eat less, exercise often, exercise efficiently, get a good night’s sleep and you’ll be healthy.
Coupled with Jacobs’ own quest for health, the reader get the parallel story of his grand-father’s declining health. This is what makes Jacobs so relatable as an author. In his other works, we get a view of Jacobs’ family life with his (long suffering and loving) wife Julie and their three boys. This book doesn’t lack that aspect, but it also includes the story of Jacobs’ grandfather who lived an amazingly full and celebration-worthy life. However, as with all things in nature, Grandpa Ted is declining in his later years and, as Jacobs works to get healthy, his efforts are contrasted against the inevitable decline of the human body in its later years. More heart-breaking is Jacobs’ account of what can happen to someone who seems perfectly healthy and does all the right things (I won’t give more details – it would ruin the read). In the end, the take away is that we should make the most of what we have when we have it – a certain amount of that is living as healthy as possible, but the reality is that fate always has the last laugh.
My only complaint about this book was a lack of clarity from the author. With Biblically and Know It All, Jacobs confined his experiments to a year-long period; with Drop Dead Healthy, the book spans two years. This left me wondering halfway through the book when Jacobs was going to wrap things up, which was quite distracting. I just wish that Jacobs had explained his break with tradition up-front. Other than that minor annoyance, I had no complaints.
So, final verdict? Read this book. Read all of Jacobs’ books – they’re funny, enlightening, and relatable. Jacobs’ is a wonderful author, and a funny, funny man, and I’ll be keeping him on my list of must-reads. Oh, and one last thing – eat your vegetables.