Exoticizing the Tarahumara? I just saw the interview with the author on the Daily Show and I was a little disturbed by what I heard. It seems as if the author tried to paint the Tarahumara as some secret, lost tribe that he first discovered when in fact they are well known, especially for their running. A friend of mine worked with them helping them with teaching their language.
As an Indigenous person and an academic, I deal with it in my own work. I can read works from the 1600s to the 1970s from academics who wrote about my people in the same vein as the Tarahumara was talked about. "They don't have any disease, they don't have any word for X, etc." All written by outsiders. Even today in 2009, I still encounter academics who write about my people without a full understanding of the culture.
Now the media loves to sensationalize things, so I am hoping that is what happened here, and that this book is not like that.
Pepper, read the book. He definitely does NOT claim to have discovered them. In fact, he goes into great historical detail about contacts they have had with explorers and other civilizations for hundreds of years. There is so much more in the book than that little interview showed. Whatever your experience with your people and other aboriginal groups may be, you should really let this book stand on its own. It is extremely respectful of them, while still being objective about the obstacles they face today.
Jesse, your logic seems a bit flawed. You state that the author wrote 'in large part to sell books' and then your inference that as such 'it is full of spin, half-truths, etc' seems non sequitur. In fact, unless you want to sell your books in large numbers you would not work hard in making the book readable (the more easier you read, the harder the author has worked) - a book is meant to present the truth in an engaging manner - if half-truths are presented then the book's author is usually 'punished'. It is a tribute to an efficient market system that when you do a job well - you usually sell well. And McDougall did a great job of presenting all the sides - and, deservedly, was harsh on the 'consumerist' Nike - in a balanced manner. I think it was a great job. Let's give it where it's due.
My quick contribution to this discussion is that McDougall's exploration of running and of the subcultures of ultra-runners is not limited to the Tarahumara, (which are exotic, by definition to us, specially when they came to compete in ultra-races in colorado), and he goes into the same exploration of non-tarahumara runners, which, for us normal folks, are just as exotic and interesting. Some of his most enjoyable characters are the American runners: Micah True, Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton (my favorite), and all the others.
Pepper raises an important issue. I'm a runner and traveler who has been to the Copper Canyon. McDougall's book is praiseworthy for its well-written, entertaining style and its multi-threaded story that carries us to the conclusion that we're all born running machines. Its weakness, if such a thing can be considered a weakness in a consumerist society, is that it was written in large part to sell books. As such, it is full of spin, half-truths, and exaggerations. But so is almost every other piece of popular media, and they have been since time immemorial. You can't expect a popular writer to write in a thorough, unbiased, all-sides-of-the-story style. That won't sell magazines, books, movies, or TV shows. Everyone has an angle, and McDougall can't be blamed for having his own.
I am not an Indigenous person, but I am mixed race and female and have endured my share of romanticizing. Here's my take on the book: Really enjoyable read. Especially good if you are a privileged white guy, since this is condescending toward the poor, the non-white, and females. If you can get past the cluck clucking at the poor little savages that run fast and that we rich guys can learn from, it can really be a good book. Example: The author quotes a Norwegian scientist from a century ago who observed that if it were not for beer, the men would never get the courage to exercise their conjugal rights. WHAT??? The author is a writer, not a scientist or historian, so it does not occur to him to take a 100 year old quote from a privileged white guy with some salt. It doesn't occur to him that sex might be truly consensual, for example, as opposed to male dominated. Tasaday, anyone?