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Magazine writer A.J. Jacobs calls it "experiential journalism." He takes on seemingly ridiculous, yet intriguing, challenges. He reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. He lives the Bible, even the apparently trivial parts, such as not shaving your face. He outsources his life to a team of personal assistants in India.

He learns along the way and shares his discoveries. It's very entertaining. Jacobs has an easygoing and, for someone who writes almost exclusively in first person, surprisingly non-egotistical style. He works hard at his projects, preparing ahead, and doing research throughout. He's a real pro at being an amateur.

In his latest undertaking, he attempts to become healthy. This is more difficult than it sounds. He plans to go from slightly overweight and out of shape to heroic fitness. And that's not all. He also intends to improve the condition of all of his body parts: skin, nose, hands, etc. All this in two years!

One of the first roadblocks he runs into is the sheer volume of information and theories on how to be fit. The second obstacle is that much of the information is contradictory. There is no agreed upon, guaranteed path to health. Even trusted experts don't agree with one another.

But the main impediment to super health is self control. No surprise there. Jacobs manages to overcome the problem with a variety of methods. When he has trouble giving up a favorite snack, he writes a large check to the American Nazi Party and vows to mail it next time he gives in to temptation. He finds this kind of negative motivation very powerful.

Another trick that works for Jacobs, though not as dramatically effective as the negative motivation, is to digitally age a photo of himself (there's an app for that) so that he can better imagine himself in the future. Being able to picture his future self ("old A.J.") helps him to stick to his goals.

He also finds inspiration in two examples in their nineties - his own grandfather who remained involved in community affairs long after his formal retirement, and fitness expert Jack La Lanne, who kept a busy professional schedule, spreading the word about healthy living, right to the end.
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on May 5, 2012
I'm probably Jacobs' biggest fan. I have all of this books and have read, I think, all of his articles. With nearly every other author, I am loth to paid extra money for hardback and will simply wait until the book comes out in paperback. With Jacobs, however, I will immediately pre-order through Amazon as soon as I hear that he's about to publish a new book.

However, I think I've turned a corner with Jacobs and am starting to tire of his approach.

This book, while it was interesting and a page-turner, is something I would never read again.

Basically, Jacobs tries to be as healthy as possible for two years, trying out various philosophies and strictures of the health movement.

Although this "I did something kooky for a while and now I'm writing a popular book about it"-approach worked with the Bible thing, the George Washington thing, the cognitive biases thing, etc., it doesn't work so well with this material.

In short, I guess I was disappointed with this book and am starting to run out of patience with Jacobs. I accuse him of not treating his material fairly (at least here) and not taking his material seriously.

This project should have taken him 5 years, but instead he rushed through it in just two. Unlike Jacob's previous outings, you get the feeling on nearly every page that his real goal was to write and sell a book, not seriously explore the different philosophies, which is what really interests the reader.

Specifically, a lot of the health, diet, and wellness approaches required more than a friggin' afternoon to really take on board! I'm sure that the proponents of these various approaches -- almost to a man -- are probably frustrated with the book and feel that Jacobs sold them short. Like I'm so sure you can try a Macrobiotic diet for 3 days and start drawing conclusions about it.

One exercise philosophy that's looked at, for example, is the "Paleo" workout: basically imitating the exercises that cavemen would have engaged in.

Interesting. But Jacobs works out with them for about two hours and never sees them again. I'm sure that those guys, not to mention the other proponents, would say that you didn't give us a fair chance. Our approach takes weeks -- sometimes months -- before it starts bearing fruit in your life.

And then there are directly conflicting philosophies; Jacobs cannot possibly do justice to them both. One holds than men should retain their "essence;" another, than men should spill their "essence" as often as possible. You try out one for a few days and think you've made a fair (or even an informative) go of things?

Since Jacobs is rushing through hundreds of different philosophies and approaches in about two years, you get the feeling that he never really gives anything a fair chance to improve his health. At least with the Bible thing, you got the feeling he was seriously interested in dispassionately investigating to what extent it was possible to live as literally as possible by the Bible. And when the project was done, we learned something: 1) No; it isn't: at some point, you have to make judgment calls; and 2) Rituals influence your mind.

But with the wellness thing, you get the feeling he's simply not serious about investigating anything, so the book ends up being unsatisfying.

I never thought I'd use that word to describe a Jacobs book, but there you go.
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on November 25, 2012
Some of the details that AJ Jacobs presents in his first-person study of a hypochondriac's guide to staying healthy are funny and delightful. An example is how if people don't like germs they also don't like foreigners:

"[Two scientists] argue that the more obsessed you are with germs, the more politically conservative you become...They conducted an experiment in which they asked subjects about their 'moral, social and fiscal' attitudes. 'Merely standing near a hand-sanitizing dispenser led people to report more conservative political beliefs,' they write. 'Apparently, the slightest signal that germs might be present is enough to shift political attitudes toward the right.'"

That is funny, and interesting. But the majority of the tidbits and trivia that AJ Jacobs present are not. In fact, a lot of the activities that AJ Jacob engages or researches for this book seem very fringe, and we soon get the distinct sense that a lot of the health fads out there are merely a manifestation of people's psychological disorders. Before it was hip to do drugs, get into indie punk music, or be an anorexic if you were psychologically troubled -- nowadays, it's hip to be a vegan, run triathlons, and just outright starve yourself.

I'm reading this book simply because I really enjoyed AJ Jacobs' "The Know-It-All," which I found cute and endearing. "Drop Dead Healthy" is just plain annoying. In "The Know-It-All," AJ Jacobs had a self-deprecating humorous tone -- in this book, he can be outright condescending. In "The Know-It-All" we learn how perfect his wife is, and we can appreciate how lucky he is to have found his soulmate. But in "Drop Dead Healthy" we're introduced to his perfect kids and perfect grandfather and perfect aunt and it's all a bit too much to take.
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on May 9, 2012
The promise: "I am on a quest to be the healthiest man alive."
The reality: "I am going to spend TWO YEARS talking to folks with fringe health ideas and sampling most of them so I can share my reflections in a book."

Jacobs' does not even take himself seriously, instead spending his book advance to try it all. He has his teeth whitened (even the folks who sell this service don't claim it helps health) and he took pole dancing lessons (since it is claimed to be good exercise--wink, wink). He does not stick with anything, which is of course rule #1 of getting healthy; instead he flips and flops from idea to idea. Grins, nods, but really, so what?

I was really interested in what a man truly attempting to become a perfectly healthy specimen might look like. That would be a good story. This one...not so much.
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on April 28, 2012
Jacobs writes entertainingly (it's his profession, after all) but if you're looking for a path to drop dead healthy there are better recipe books. Jacobs serves up a ton of anecdotes, all of them enjoyable, but there's a lot of filler larded in here. And so many anecdotes it becomes impossible to figure out whether he ended up with a long term system or not. But at the price, it's good entertainment, and worth it for that.
Also, he's the grandson of Ted Kheel, so he's descended from royalty.
Also (again) I wound up feeling sorry for Julie who has to put up with a guy who brings home so many crazy ideas.
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on April 25, 2012
Bought the book after Jacobs appeared on one of the morning shows. His interview was much better than the book.

I found the book simplistic and obvious without any redeeming qualities in terms of humor or wit. His writing style is superficial, failing to interest me in his "quest". The story meanders through his boring life and fails to impart any information that can't be found with a simple Google search.
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on April 18, 2012
This book really just reads like an extended Esquire column more than anything else. Some of the anecdotes are interesting but I just found it more narcissistic more than anything else. I haven't read his other books so maybe that's just the style of writing.

Question for the author, did you receive any incentive or reward by any 3rd party beyond your publisher for this book? It just feels like there's a lot of product placement in there at times.

Many apologies for being the first non 5* review!
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on April 23, 2012
I have read and loved all of Ajs books and eagerly looked forward to the release date of this book. Even better, I was going on vacation and had uninterrupted time to sit back and enjoy. Unfortunately, this volume seemed formulaic and stale, like I had read it before. The jokes and twists were predictable. I didn't laugh out loud constantly like I did with the know it all etc. Still love you aj, but I think it's time to find a new genre. You are a good writer- lets see something different!
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on May 30, 2015
I have to hand it to Jacobs, he sucked me in. Our dentist had the book in his waiting room and I managed to read a chapter at each visit. Then the book became too compelling and too funny to put down. I had to order one of my own. Jacobs has a mighty understanding family and a great sense of fun. He subjects himself to all manner of healthy eating and acting to assess the efficacy of each program - to often hilarious result. Fun. And he learned to take better care of himself in the process.
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on April 21, 2012
Jacobs seems like a nice guy from this book, but a very regular, ordinary, frankly uninteresting guy. I suppose this is why he does these " experiments" as they help make him interesting. The book's advice is unremarkable (Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, the Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating or Younger Next Year have much better information) and the various experiments he does are not particularly interesting or funny. I am in the minority here but if you enjoy things with a bit of an edge, don't appreciate trite homespun " wisdom" and a weak sitcom version of family life or if you like humor that is funny stay away. By the way I question some of the five star reviews, so many of them are so absurd (one reviewer wrote this was the best nonfiction book she had ever read!) and so strongly advise you to buy the book that it makes me feel they are written by friends of the author or perhaps by people who have some interest in its success. Maybe not, maybe some people are just more easily amused or have not read other health books, but this reader says stay away!
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