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Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  346 Ratings  ·  59 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

Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 1st 1992 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published March 1st 1991)
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(showing 1-30 of 633)
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Jennifer Lane
Sep 19, 2011 Jennifer Lane rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
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
A fascinating little memoir about Sam Fussell's foray into body-building in the late 1980's. From 1985-1988 he was a dedicated body builder. According to Sam he felt weak and ineffectual and body building was his attempt to protect himself from the world by putting on a protective armor of muscle. He submerged himself totally into the world of bodybuilding and "Muscle" is about his experiences as one of the denizens of the sub-culture. The son of famed scholar Paul Fussell ,and a graduate of Har ...more
Ed Nemo
Sep 22, 2011 Ed Nemo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biograghy
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
Jul 28, 2016 Elizabeta rated it it was amazing
The horrors behind professional bodybuilding. It was so interesting, I put all other books on hold.
Jan 20, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: bodybuilding
"When I asked Sweapea what led him to the GYM, he said Flippers; I was skinny for my age and for my birthday my father gave me flippers and I ask why he did it, it wasn't like we had a big pool in the backyard. Them flippers he said are to keep your bony ass from disappearin' down the drain when youse takes a shower! Been trainin' ever since"!! pg 54

One man's transition from highly bread academic kid born in Princeton, NJ who growing up in NYC in the 70's was afraid of getting beat up or killed,
Paul Duffau
Apr 12, 2015 Paul Duffau rated it really liked it
Venturing into the world of bodybuilding with Samuel Wilson Fussell takes the reader on a surreal trip filled with primal screams, shots of human growth hormone in the ass, and lumbering lifters. Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, Fussell’s memoir, follows the progression of an erudite young man into an Arnold-wannabe. From the nearly paralyzing fear brought on by living in the violence that was New York City in the early 1980’s to Southern California, where he competed, Fussell del ...more
Dec 30, 2015 Angela rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, bc-06
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beaumont Vance
Mar 11, 2016 Beaumont Vance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great story of an improbable bodybuilder

Well told story of a man losing himself in bodybuilding. Perhaps a little light on insights into his motivations along the way. But for anyone who has ever fallen in love with weightlifting and bodybuilding, this book does justice to much of the allure. After all, it is the purity and simplicity of being lost in the pain and blinding effort of the reps that is the drug. The size is the outward proof that you belong in the tribe.

I would not say this is the
Alex Stefan
Apr 12, 2015 Alex Stefan rated it it was amazing
I have known this book existed since 2007, when I was both into bodybuilding and writing a thesis about it. Couldn't find it then, but it is still a great read 8 years after. This is the story of a little boy's dream and its collapse. It shows you the mirage of iron and what comes next, but it's in the 80s when things were a lot worse, both in and out of the gym. It seems exaggerated and might make you laugh at some point, but if you never befriended the iron it is the only reaction that makes s ...more
Jul 13, 2010 Kate rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2011 Lee rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 01, 2011 Dachokie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
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
Jan 30, 2009 Pete rated it really liked it
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
Mar 11, 2008 Roy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 11, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Nov 18, 2008 Joe rated it really liked it
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
Jun 05, 2012 Espen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Nov 07, 2007 Jason rated it really liked it
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
Dec 09, 2015 SP rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
At its core, this has a lot in common with the "recovered addict" genre. The author admits that he used bodybuilding to compensate for other problems in his life. But (as is so often true) it only masked the pain without actually healing the real problems. Fussell is very honest about himself and his experiences, and for that reason the subject matter can sometimes be disturbing. A fast, easy read with interesting insights -- but be prepared for some darkness.
Daniel Lambauer
Apr 12, 2015 Daniel Lambauer rated it it was ok
read this for my book club and was not very impressed. yes it is interesting to gain some access into the crazy world of bodybuilding , but i would have liked a bit more analysis about the motivations. the armour/shield motivation - protecting one from outside - sounded a bit thin. the book therefore also became a bit repetitive. hovewer it did show the amount of dedication that has to go into this 'activity' to even making it close to the top.
Ann Xiang
Fascinating account of a young man's dive into the bodybuilding world, from the skinny English literature graduate to the stage of bodybuilding contests, what started as a innocent trip to the gym progressed to sheer obsession, and certain darkness, brutally honest, some times just plain brutal. It reminds me of the reason we read books: to hitch onto a journey that we dare not take in real life.
Justin  hight
Jun 26, 2016 Justin hight rated it it was amazing
Ever want to get inside the head of an obsessed bodybuilder? Want to know how insane we can be and what drives us? This is a perfect book for that. Although sometimes it gets some things wrong, like how we are all superficial ,the obsessive mentality holds true. Out of all the anecdotal details and stories of this book I actually know many similar things that have happened. It's not as crazy as it sounds. Even if you think bodybuilding is stupid and don't know anything about it this is still a g ...more
Mark Wolf
Jul 20, 2015 Mark Wolf rated it really liked it
This is a great story about personal transformation and identity. Although I was initially hesitant about reading this book, I was hooked by the first chapter. The ending felt very lacking and anti climactic, nevertheless it's a great insight into a man's personal journey as well as the sport of body building.
Anne Martin
Jan 07, 2016 Anne Martin rated it liked it
An insider's tale of the bodybuilding world of the late 1980s, steroids, Arnold, L.A. After finishing a degree at Oxford, psychologically lost guy gets obsessed and dedicated four years to his pumping iron dream. Horrifying and funny at the same time.
Stephen Huntley
May 07, 2014 Stephen Huntley rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 24, 2007 Lonnie rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2013 Evy rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 08, 2008 Marianne rated it liked it
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
Feb 06, 2014 Fritz rated it it was ok
this is paul fussell's son's book about getting really into steroids
May 12, 2016 Kayleen rated it it was amazing
A classic tale of addiction to something other then drugs.
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