Isis's Reviews > The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb
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's review
Jan 10, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, history, running, biography, favorites
Read from December 27, 2010 to January 10, 2011

You might think fourteen hours of narration about a race lasting around four minutes is a bit ridiculous, but this is a fabulous and fascinating account of not just the three athletes who individually strove to run the sub-four-minute mile, but of the history of the sport of racing, the ideal (and reality) of amateur athletics, the tension between Great Britain and its former colonies in the mid-20th century, and the psychology of people faced with what appears to be an insurmountable barrier. I'm a runner, but in no way a miler (which, it amuses me, is considered "middle distance"); still, this history enthralled me, and I recommend it to runners and non-runners alike. (I suppose if I weren't a runner I would have given it four stars.) Even though I already knew who "won" the race to be first under four minutes (although none of the subsequent events - the breaking of that record or the "Mile of the Century" race) I loved the structure, which alternates among the contenders as each makes progress toward the goal, with diversions of history, philosophy, and medicine.

Incidentally, the film of this first sub-4 mile is on Youtube, and I appreciated being able to watch it with an understanding of what was really happening - knowing, for example, that the man leading at the beginning was deliberately pacing his friend, rather than trying to win the race. A link from that video clip led me to a clip of the most recent world record mile, in 1999 (mentioned in the book's epilogue), which was run in an astonishing 3:43.13 - more than 16 seconds faster than the mark they were striving for, in a race where winners were determined by fractions of a second.

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Reading Progress

20.0% "This is enthralling. Also, note to self, find biography of Emil Zatopek."
45.0% "Still fascinating."
75.0% "Yay! He did it!"
90.0% "I was listening to the climactic chapter while riding my stationary bike and I couldn't stop until the race was over!"
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Adrienne (new) - added it

Adrienne Adding this to my to-read list after reading your review...

My personal experience in running is likewise more marathon than mile. Nevertheless, I find there's something rather beautiful about the mile distance as a race. It is long enough for strategy to matter, yet the pace is fast enough for the observer to feel a certain smoothness and integrity ("unity of time", maybe?) to the race.

Isis I had never thought much about the mile, as I never participated in or really watched track. Seeing it through the lens of history and of this one particular competition really made it tangible for me. I think it's easy to forget that there really is stamina/endurance required for a "short" race, when one is used to races of 10 miles or more.

Anyway, if you have any running experience at all, I think this is a fabulous book. (For those who don't, I think it's a good book, still, but maybe not quite as remarkable.)

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