Despite the three stars I gave this book, I feel this is a must read for anyone who even remotely enjoys the Illmatic album. Personally, I am a huge NDespite the three stars I gave this book, I feel this is a must read for anyone who even remotely enjoys the Illmatic album. Personally, I am a huge Nas fan and I consider Illmatic to be one of the top 5 or 10 artistic achievements of the past 25 years, in any medium... but this book was very disappointing to me for several reasons. The biggest one is that the writers of the essays in the book tend to think that the majority of the album's value lies in what it says, tangentially, about sociology and politics. And while they are often right in their assessments, I find myself growing increasingly annoyed that hip hop as a whole is considered most valuable when it is primarily assessed as a form of social criticism. It frustrates me that critics can't just interpret the best of hip hop as great art and explain what makes it great art in and of itself, regardless of its politics.
The books is divided for about the first two-thirds by essays about inspired by each individual song on the album. Another of my main problems is that most of the essays hardly mention the song that they're supposed to be about. The essay associated with "One Time for Your Mind" for example, spent much more time trying to deconstruct the music video for "I Can", a song released almost 10 years after Illmatic. Regardless, I found that essay to be the weakest amongst all that are presented. It's promotes a feminist argument, and while I don't argue that Hip Hop needs a more "feminine" (for lack of a better word) touch, I think the author glosses over various contradictory events that would weaken her argument. The biggest one for me is the author's assertion that Nas, as well as other hip hop "traditionalists" (again, for lack of a better word)dislike the progression of modern hip hop because they would like to go back to the days when hip hop was a predominately male enterprise. While the author does have a leg to stand on, especially with regards to several of Nas's statements, she also fails to mention that Nas, on the song "Represent", specifically mentions the battle between Shante and The Real Roxanne--a battle between two females that took place during the exact time period that the author uses to illustrate her point of a female absence. Therefore, this inclusion would seem to suggest to me that Nas's comments were merely him calling it as it was (he had something about most women not liking the type of hip hop he enjoyed growing up), and not saying that hip hop necessarily has to appeal to males only. I, myself, have met only a handful of females in my life who like the same hip hop music I do, and I don't like most of the hip hop my female acquaintances enjoy. I personally don't think this is so because I wish to exclude women. Instead, I think it's just because there's something in me, whether nature or nurture, that attracts me to music that makes me want to punch someone in the face... and this sort of music, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to attract many females.
The best essays were the ones that actually focused on the songs they were supposed to be inspired by. The essays on "Life's a Bitch" and "Represent" and "It Ain't Hard to Tell" come immediately to mind. The essay on "New York State of Mind" was decent, but ultimately disappointing because I see the song as an example of some of the most visual and visceral and vibrant poetry written. And while the author does touch on this slightly, he seems more preoccupied with exploring its sociological and political implications, instead of its art.
The focus on the politics and sociological implications is not necessarily a bad thing (although I was slightly annoyed on several occasions when the authors of the essays romanticized incarcerated individuals [Mr. Dyson's "One Love" article excluded:], and treated the prison population as if they had no role to play in their own incarceration. I grew up poor and brown and know plenty of people who have served time, many of whom are my close friends and family, and I find that most of them deserved to go to prison, but that's neither here nor there), but I think the authors should've done a better job, on the whole, of discussing the importance of such things being done in an artistic manner.
Ultimately, it was worth the read and several of the articles are superb. The best part of the book for me was the last third which features various interviews, vignettes and elegies associated with the album. ...more
I really want to give this book 5-stars, because I think it's probably the most accessible bodyweight calisthenics book out there, but there's a few mI really want to give this book 5-stars, because I think it's probably the most accessible bodyweight calisthenics book out there, but there's a few minor shortcomings that I just can't get over.
The good: There's enough information in here to keep a lot of people busy for a long time... without having to dish out a whole lot of dough for gym memberships or home equipment. For my money, this book also has the best, most accessible, easiest to incorporate bw calisthenic workout routines that I've seen. My disappointment with books like Convict Conditioning, Building the Gymnastic Body and The Naked Warrior is that they either do have a very detailed routine to build upon, or they don't have routines that are easily incorporated into daily life. This book definitely does have that.
The bad: The biggest issue for me, is, as thorough as the book is, that Lauren doesn't go over static holds (which are some of the best exercises for building strength and endurance with only your body) and he doesn't go over a lot of elite movements, such as a one-armed pullup and its variations, or a muscle-up. Furthermore, as others have mentioned, Lauren doesn't provide much detail for some of his movements, which isn't an issue for people like myself who have some experience in BW calisthenics, but can be a huge knock for those who are just beginning. Also, while I obviously agree that for general fitness and strength, bw calisthenics are the best way to go, I always feel a little annoyed when bw "aficionados" disparage pumping iron too much. Pumping iron is a good thing. It's better than doing nothing, and it's still the best way to develop the legs, in my opinion.
Overall, as someone who has read a lot of the bw calisthenic literature, I think this is the best use of one's money, particularly if one is not yet at an "elite" level (those who have been doing bw calisthenics for some time might be better of with something like Building the Gymnastic Body, but I personally have just incorporated what I liked about BtGB into Lauren's routines.). Dragon Door has some decent books, but it's hard to recommend them to someone when they cost $40 or so. Especially when something like Convict Conditioning--which is a book jam-packed with good information-- doesn't really provide useful examples of exercise routines (some will disagree with me, but none of the routines in CC gave me the results I was looking for).
On a side note, for those who are interested in seeing what bodyweight calisthenics is capable of, check out youtube for videos of the "barstarzz", "bartendaz" and "Hannibal for King" or Al Kavadlo's website. It's pretty hard to argue with the results shown by those guys, and I doubt the vast majority of people training only with weights are capable of the feats exhibited therein. The barstarzz instructional DVD is actually a pretty good investment itself. ...more
I'm going to go with a four-star rating with this book, because, ultimately, once one gets past some of the annoying characters, there's a bunch of grI'm going to go with a four-star rating with this book, because, ultimately, once one gets past some of the annoying characters, there's a bunch of great stories in here.
Like many others, apparently, on this site, I'm not a runner. I hate running. Or, at least, I hate distance running. I ran cross country for one year in high school and never got into it. I also ran the sprints during track season. I liked that (sprinting) much better and still do, even though I/my body wasn't made to sprint. Even so, this book made me want to go for a five minute run with my shoes off... so it's at least that good.
The best parts for me were the chapters that were more educational. I liked learning about the Tarahumara and our evolution as a species and about the bushmen in Africa and about all these great runners from the past and how modern running shoes hamper our running style. There was a lot of good information presented. Most true sprinting spikes don't have much of a sole, so one is sort of forced to run as described as natural in the book. I always found this kind of running much more comfortable and I never had any injuries. Even in strength training, as I've gotten older, I've found that doing bodyweight calisthenics for strength (yes, plenty of BW exercises can increase strength substantially) have kept my joints much more health than the weights have. What I'm saying is that I think the human body has adapted toward certain purposes and many of our contemporary training methods run contrary to evolution and we pay for it in our health. I'm saying I buy what McDougall is selling.
What rubbed me wrong about this book was some of the character sketches were annoying as hell. I found characters like Jenny and Billy incorrigible and had to struggle to get through the chapter that focused on these two. I'm sure they're probably great, nice, intelligent people, but the author made them seem like those people in college you always had to throw out of your apartment by hand. Caballo, Scott, the first "Bruja" in Leadville and Barefoot Ted were somewhat more tolerable, but even then, McDougall seemed so hell-bent on creating quirky characters that I felt as if he probably wasn't doing any of these people any justice.
But, in the end, I agree with another commenter that I don't quite understand the hero-worship we lavish on individuals who are so unbalanced. Ultimately, who cares if these people give so much of their lives to running? I'm still waiting for someone to write a book about a well-rounded individual who can juggle all of the demands of contemporary life and still be sane.
Or is it that this person doesn't exist, and so it's easier to write about quirky obsessives?...more
This is without a doubt the most entertaining and arguably the most practical fitness book I have ever read. It makes me want to read Bronson's otherThis is without a doubt the most entertaining and arguably the most practical fitness book I have ever read. It makes me want to read Bronson's other books.
The only reason I don't give it 5 stars is I'm skeptical about the efficacy of dynamic tension exercises, which is the primary paradigm espoused by the book. I have heard good things about such an approach, but I'm too scared to give up my current workout routine to try these techniques, so I should probably at least give it a shot before knocking it, but I probably won't.
Also, if you follow the program, some days you'll have some very long workouts. And, I, for one, am lazy and the only way to get motivated to actually get off my ass is to know that I won't be working hard for more than 30-40 minutes.
Other than that, it's a very comprehensive book with lots and lots of pragmatic advice. The chapter on the cow punch is something anyone who is halfway serious about fitness and/or spirituality should read. There is something about these people who spend their lives pushing the limits of their physical abilities that lends them to having spiritual awakenings (see also: Joseph Greenstein, The Great Gama, various martial artists).
In short, this book is a great gift from a complex man. Get it. Read it. Put it to use....more
This is a good book for anybody who's tired of hearing stupid people talk. Beckerman points out a lot of hypocrisy on both sides of the political specThis is a good book for anybody who's tired of hearing stupid people talk. Beckerman points out a lot of hypocrisy on both sides of the political spectrum, but the Right takes the brunt of most of his venom... and for good reason[s:]. The things that help this book stand out from other political texts is that Beckerman uses a whole lot of logic and common sense when confronting the issues, and, of course, he infuses those with a lot of scathing humor... especially, at least, a couple dozen biting one-liners.
My only real complaint of this book, and the reason I didn't give it 5 stars, is that Beckerman is a tremendous writer in his own right, with a pile of interesting ideas, and yet half the book (maybe more) is quotes from other people and sources. This bodes well for his reputation as a dedicated researcher, but I wish he would've filtered much of that research into more original, spontaneous prose, because he's good at it. ...more