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Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder
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Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  232 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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 chronic

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Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 1st 1992 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published March 1st 1991)
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Jennifer Lane
What a disturbing insight into the world of 1980's bodybuilding, full of steroids, stuffing and starvation, and style over substance. My psychologist colleague loaned me this book by Sam Fussell, an Oxford-educated English major who decides he's done being terrified of New York City's crime-ridden streets. He wanders into the local YMCA and begins lifting weights, intrigued by the huge men pumping iron, shouting obscenities, acting like they own the world. Months later, Sam has become one of the ...more
Angela
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kate
Jul 13, 2010 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Language lovers, iron heads, sociology nuts, anyone considering the steroid debate
Recommended to Kate by: My powerlifting father
A documentary of a smart and timid giant's venture through the "iron jungle." Thrust a highly educated literature graduate son of two Ivy League literature professors into the seedy raw world of bodybuilding, and you get this most intelligent insider perspective of iron lingo, lifestyle, perspective and motivation that would be otherwise impossible--impossible. The very nature of bodybuilding in the '80s inhibits this kind of transparent evaluation, basically relying on an alter-reality for fuel ...more
Ed Nemo
I absolutely loved this book. The people that the author runs into in this book are people I have seen, (or a reasonable fascimile).

What really got me was when this extremely well educated bodybuilder stops working his lucrative literary job and takes a job as a trainer at a gym. And why not? I have worked with a lot of bouncers who took jobs in clubs because they figured they would be there anyway, why not get paid for it? I have a friend who now works as a trainer at a gym, even though he is
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Lee
Muscle was a book that I was highly interested in because my father was also somewhat "diseased" in my formative years during the '80s, doing everything he could to bulk up and get stronger. He participated in some deadlift competitions but nothing as significant as the contests Sam Fussell suffered through. Seeing the insights from somebody who lived this lifestyle was intriguing, but I didn't feel that the author really discovered much about himself that he didn't already know. He was aware th ...more
Dachokie
Actually, this is a pretty accurate book about the obsessive weightlifting subculture ..., July 2, 2008

I was an avid weightlifter in college and first read this book years after I graduated from college in 1989 and was more or less humored by its candor ... i classified it as entertaining.

Shortly after reading this book, I was invited to train with a powerlifting team and was seriously bitten by the weight-training bug to a point in which it became not only a huge part of my life, but, in part
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Pete
I did not seek this book out. A co-worker who was moving back to the US was giving away books and this was the last. I thought - why not take it off his hands? It proved to be a real gem.

The story: Princeton and Oxford educated Sam gets a job in NYC before he starts a graduate program at Yale. Unfortunately this is New York City in the early 1980s and it is a scary place. Not only that, but his parents have just divorced. Looking for some sanctuary, he enrolls at the YMCA gym to beef up. Being 6
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Roy
This made for a very interesting read. The extremes that the author and other bodybuilders go through to reach their perceived version of physical perfection (e.g. - cutting calorie intake dramatically in the days leading up to a competition in order to achieve a shredded look to the point that even toothpaste is avoided) were compelling to learn about. The reader is given a glimpse into this familiar yet foreign world from someone unlikely to be there in the first place. I'm a physical fitness ...more
Brian
I saw somewhere that HBO is making a show out of one of the most painful books I have ever read: Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, by Sam Fussell. If that's your thing, I thought you might like to know about it before you run down to your local library to check out a copy (or pick up the inevitable paperback reissue).

Fussell hates himself. That's not a gloss; he says so several times in the book. It's what led him to the gym in the first place. In the interim between his Oxford gra
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Joe
This is the autobiographical story of an Oxford graduate who moves to New York, decides to take up weightlifting as a hobby, and ends up dedicating four years of his life to becoming a top-level amateur bodybuilder.

The book itself is absolutely compelling. The author does a great job of keeping the story moving, interspersing stories of himself (his regimen, his physical changes) with stories of the other people he met, as well as observations and explanations of the hidden world of weightlifter
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Espen
Sam Fussell, a tall and scrawny son of two writers and academics (Paul and Betty Fussell) started bodybuilding in an effort to remake himself, and succeeded, to the point where, 4 years and 80 pounds later, he competed in and nearly won a bodybuilding competition. This is the hilarious story of how he did it and the outlandish characters he met on the way - all in search of size and definition. (Here is a blog post giving a fuller summary.)

A fun read, though there are occasionally too much detai
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Jason
Samuel Fussell lived in NY and so happened to run across a book about Arnold and bodybuilding. Fussell prematurely assumed that bodybuilding would be the answer to his insecurities and problems. Therefore, he joined the YMCA and started learning about training as a bodybuilder. He became so encaptured by it that he decided to move to Bodybuilding's Mecca, Southern California, to make his way as a competitive bodybuilder. He joins a gym there and befriends other bodybuilders who help him along an ...more
Stephen Huntley
Great, insightful book; really paints a colourful picture of the bodybuilding scene and the steroid and other drugs that sustain it. But this is no dry, information-laden read; it is bright, intelligent and often amusing.
Lonnie
A skinny, frightened, well-educated, upper class geek tells of his quest to build his body into a mass of muscle after reading Arnold's "Education of a Bodybuilder". The author is brutally honest about himself, his friends in the game and of the bodybuilding culture itself. I found myself recognizing many people I know as well as myself as he described the attitude, style of dress and the uber-man mentality of the author, his training partners and his opponents. He makes no bones about the fact ...more
Evy
As someone who is not the least bit interested in the sport of bodybuilding, it's interesting that this book ended up being one of my favorites. I picked it up around the same time I read Eric McCallister Smith's "Not By the Book" when we were stationed in Germany and hadn't received our household goods yet so there wasn't a lot to do. I'm glad I did because this book was so entertaining. It's not a "how to" book on bodybuilding; it's a story of this one man's journey into the sport and what it ...more
Marianne
I found this book in the laundry room of my apartment building, and started reading it in hopes that it would inspire me to create and stick to a regular exercise schedule. It was an interesting book, but did not have the desired effect. After reading about how the author got "the bodybuilding disease" (as he calls it), I was wary of catching it myself! Although I'm not prone to such addictive behaviors, I have spotted a few that might have "the disease" in my gym. I thought the author's discuss ...more
Fritz
this is paul fussell's son's book about getting really into steroids
Merry
This was a really entertaining book. The author is an intellectual guy (Rhodes scholar at Oxford) who gets into serious professional bodybuilding. He is completely into it, yet later writes about how extreme it is. The one thing I still remember from it is that when they are getting ready for a contest, the bodybuilders reduce their body fat so far that their feet hurt - no fat pads under their heels holding up those huge bodies. He talks about Roid Rage, his buddies, etc. Very worthwhile.
Tobi Evangelisti
Recommended to me by a co-worker. Quick read and quite comical so far...
Loved this book. Found it to be very funny, brought me way back to the 80's and the outfits and yes I wore thong bodysuits while teaching at Gloria Stevens. I could relate to the diet, the work outs and how easy it is to take over someones life. Obviously he takes it to the extreme on so many levels and thank God I did this when natural contests where cool.

Thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ted
Truly entertaining and amusing memoir. Son of (I believe) head of Princeton Lit dept graduates from Oxford, comes back to NY and decides to become competitive bodybuilder. Compete with tales of steroid induced acne between the toes, vomitting from excessive food intake and lifting while wearing adult diapers. The ends these guys go to to achieve the "look" are amazing(or disgusting depending on how you look at it). Nothing deep here - just well written.
Christopher Long
A biography covering the journey of Sam Fussell from underweight literary professional to a post-Pumping Iron juiced-up bodybuilder. The characters are pastiches and consequently come across as cartoonish, but the excellent writing and fascinating story yield an enjoyable, melancholy and surprisingly philosophical book. Underrated, strongly recommended.
Noelle M
What a read this was! I have to give it 5 stars because it was so original, and the before and after photos were mind-blowing (to put it mildly). Apparently his mother cried when she saw what he did to himself. The incredible hulk. Ohmygawd! Bodybuilding must be the compulsive male equivalent of females eating and retching to stay thin.
Kurt
Unlike other stories of personal growth and discovery, Fussell's narrative is superficial throughout, gains little insight, and ultimately reinforces the stereotype he seems to want to escape following his experience; the masculine is all brute force, no reflective thought, no need for change. Pass.
Matt
The book is a non-fiction story of a skinny New Yorker who is overwhelmed by his city living. He decides to make his own body his smithy in forging his defense against the world. I enjoyed it very much. Probably wouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did unless you come from a weight lifting background.
Jonathan Green
Fussell's excursion into and subsequent adoption of a subculture I hadn't a clue about was quite simply so perversely interesting, once I began to read I could not stop. Well told and fascinating. Great read for sociology/psychology/behavioral science geeks, too.
Dan
This book isn't just about bodybuilding. It is about why someone chose to become a mountain of muscles and the psychology of it. A quick read, with some amazing real life characters.
Robert
Readable if a little predictable and short on denouement. The first 75 pages of this book do a better job of explaining why some people become gym rats than anything else I've ever read.
Alan
Read this during the original Arnold era, before the movies and governorship. Odd story about kid from intellectual family diving into the California bodybuilding subculture.
Alsohn
Great book. Lets you chuck a bit at folks you may classify in the meathead/self absorbed category. But not to their face, because they'll remove yours.
Julia
As a physique competitor I had to read this book. I have no interest in PIDs, but it's interesting to see what people will subject themselves to.
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