The Underdog: How I Survived The World's Most Outlandish Competitions is one of the few books I've read in the last few years that made me laugh out loud.Joshua Davis' book is both a metaphysical examination of his life, and a retelling of his experiences entering some of the world's most unique sporting events. Unlike many books that delve deeply into the author's musty mental attic, The Underdog doesn't get bogged down in "Woe is me" whining and a misplaced desire to change the past. Instead, Davis leaps fully into each challenge he accepts with a firm idea in his head that while he can't change the past and the things he doesn't like about his life, he can change the future. Fortunately for us, he chooses to charge bravely into the unknown by methods a bit less tried and true.
In the book, Davis claims that his great strength is his curiousity, his ability to ask questions. In reality, his great strength is his lack of inhibitions and his ability to ask the right questions. Most of us, when presented with the opportunity to enter a two-mile road race that is run backwards by its participants, would demure the invitation in public, and then scoff loudly behind closed doors about what a stupid idea a backwards race is. Not Davis. Instead of simply closing off his mind, he gathers himself and leaps completely into the challenge.
Join a national arm wrestling competition without any training or any real chance of winning? No problem. Wrestle sumo at 132 pounds against wrestlers who weigh 300 pounds or more? Where does he sign up? Travel to India to run backwards across a beach covered in human feces? When does that plane leave? A sauna contest where the ambient air temperature is so hot it hurts to breathe? Does the sign-up form have a space ffor a credit card number?
It isn't so much that the events themselves are wacky; it is Davis' retelling of his own involvement in the events that had me busting a gut several times. His recounting of his family's preparations for, and participation in, the sauna contest just about had me falling out of my chair with laughter. It has been a long time since a book left me laughing that hard.
While The Underdog is not likely to win any awards for in-depth personal psychoanalysis, it is engaging and well-written. If you need a couple hundred pages of laughter and entertainment to fight the pre-winter blahs, few items short of plane tickets to Rio will fit the bill like this book.