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Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream [Kindle Edition]

Jason Fagone
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $13.95
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

“To be up on stage, shoving food in your face, beats everyday existence for most people.” —David “Coondog” O’Karma, competitive eater

“Hungry” Charles Hardy. Ed “Cookie” Jarvis. Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. Will such names one day be looked back upon as the pioneers of a new manifestation of the irrepressible American appetite for competition, money, fame, and self-transformation? They will if the promoters of the newly emerging sport of competitive eating have their way. In Horsemen of the Esophagus, Jason Fagone reports on the year he spent in the belly of this awakening beast.

Fagone’s trek takes him to 27 eating contests on two continents, from the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship in Venice Beach, California, to Nagoya, Japan, where he pursues an interview with the legendary Takeru Kobayashi, perhaps the most prodigious eater in the world today, and to the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, the sport’s annual grand finale, where Kobayashi has eaten more than 50 dogs in 12 minutes. Along the way, Fagone discovers an absurd, sometimes troubling subculture on the make, ready to bust out of its county fair and neighborhood-fat-guys niche and grab a juicy piece of the big-time television sports/Vegas spectacle jackpot.

Fagone meets promoters like George Shea, the P. T. Barnum of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (aka IFOCE, “the governing body of all stomach-centric sport”) and enters the lives of three “gurgitators”: David “Coondog” O’Karma, a fiftyish, six-two house painter from Ohio who’s “not ready to become invisible”; Bill “El Wingador” Simmons, the Philly Wing Bowl legend who is shooting for a fifth chicken-eating championship despite the fact that it may be killing him; and Tim “Eater X” Janus, a lean young Wall Street trader who takes a seriously scientific and athletic approach to the pursuit of ingesting mountains of food in record-breaking times. Each in his own way feels as if he has lost or not yet found something essential in life, and each is driven by the desperate hope that through consumption he may yet find redemption, that even in the junkiest of America’s junk culture, true nourishment might be found. After all, as it says on the official IFOCE seal: In Voro Veritas (In Gorging, Truth).

With forays into the gastrointestinal mechanics of the alimentary canal (“it’s what unbuilds the world to build you,” but, hey, you can skip that part if you like), the techniques and tricks of the experienced gurgitators (pouring a little club soda on top of high-carb foods makes them easier to swallow), and the historical roots of the competitive eating phenomenon, Horsemen of the Esophagus gives the French something else to dislike about America. And it gives the rest of us food for thought about the bizarre and unlikely places the American Dream can sometimes lead.

Also available as an eBook

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


"Jason Fagone's Horsemen of the Esophagus is an inspired, hilarious and–more than occasionally–frightening look at the uniquely American phenomenon of competitive eating. As the grilled cheeses, the chili, and the oysters disappear down the hatch at a shocking rate, Fagone redefines the phrase fast food and finds in competitive eating a not-entirely-reassuring metaphor for American life. When it's over, you'll want to buy everyone in the book a bottle of Pepto Bismol, and you'll never look at a hot dog the same way again." —Warren St. John, author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

"This is a rapacious, capacious and almost insane tale. I love Jason Fagone for recognizing that eating contests make for excellent drama, and I love him for having the tenacity to explore his topic as deeply as he does here, and with such glimmering prose. And as a former speed-eating champion myself (I won a pie-eating contest in high school, beating out a young man who later became a Navy SEAL), I devoured every word." —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Last American Man (an NBCC finalist) and Eat, Pray, Love

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Jason Fagone is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia magazine. In 2002 he was named one of the “Ten Young Writers on the Rise” by the Columbia Journalism Review. He lives in Philadelphia.

Product Details

  • File Size: 459 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307237397
  • Publisher: Crown (June 6, 2006)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,095 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They came. They ate. They conquered. May 1, 2006
I picked this book up because I enjoyed Fagone's profiles and articles for Philadelphia magazine and, let's be frank, that cover is just too enticing to put down.

This book is essentially a collection of profiles of the sport's top eaters. I say sport because these competitors tend to take eating seriously.

Fagone spends a year on the competetive eating circuit, getting to know eating's biggest stomachs and more importantly, finding the back story that explains why (why oh why?) someone would shovel food down their throats as fast as they can. There's definitely some money in this for a few of the best eaters, but most of the odd characters in the book are in it for something else. That's the big mystery.

In anyone else's hands, competetive eating would come across as a crass carnival where gluttons get fatter and even a person's death can seem humorous, like some news of the weird clip. But Fagone puts a very human face on the sport through his extensive travels with Dave "Coondog" O'Karma, and through interviews with the likes of Sonya "the black widow" Thomas.

But he also gets at something much bigger -- what the exponential rise of this sport says about our country and its nickname as the land of plenty. He fishes out the hypocroses among the officials that run the contests and never loses sight of the bigger truth that these contests are usually marketing events for food producers.

Overall, brace yourself for some brilliant reporting, a fast-paced, interesting narrative, and some colorful people who may just be your neighbors. An in a completely unexpected turn, this book is the first I've ever read while riding a stationary bike at the gym. Best motivation ever.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eat This Review April 30, 2006
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a while. Competitive eating is crazy and surreal and big and seemingly unredeeming, all of which makes for hilarious reading, and Jason Fagone is a memorable stylist who does justice to his material. But what is most remarkable about this book is that Fagone manages to find, not impose, profundity in the food-shoveling obsessives who are his subjects. Reading this book actually made me see America's place in the world more clearly.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The heart of the gut of the matter May 1, 2006
Just as it takes a particular kind of ambition to stare down a plate of cow's brains and eat them at furious speed, so does it take a particular ambition to write about competitive eating as something more than junk culture. Jason Fagone, a writer of considerable heart and talent, does just that. This book is more about the "American dream" of the subtitle than anything else. Transcendent? Yeah, kinda. Fagone manages to bulldog past the cartoon facade of his subjects and see deep into their hearts, and to answer the real question about speed eating: Why would anyone do it? The answer is more likely to break your heart than bust your gut.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really intriguing and well written August 21, 2006
Ok, up front, let me say that I think that competitive eating is fairly weird and gross. This book only marginally shifted my idea that the whole thing is a bit of a freak show. I didn't think I'd like this book. My sister gave me this book because she has an unnatural fixation with hot dogs and spends way too much time in bookstores cruising the new release aisle. I am unfamiliar with this writer, as I guess it's his first book. But he has a strong voice, and an engaging way of explaining the most incredulous situations as very matter of fact. I sort of thought it as a more entertaining variation on "Fast Food Nation."

Frankly, some of the details are just weird or hysterical (dunking hot dogs in liquid so that they go down easier - yuck) and yet it's all nicely detailed and believable. One thing that is not evident from the cover is that the story is not just of the business of competitive eating, which I knew nothing about and which he covers well, but of America's huge appetites for everything. I found this aspect of the book surprisingly thought provoking. I say surprisingly, because I really just thought it would be about obese guys eating hot dogs. But it actually made me really think about these people, and why they do this to themselves, and more importantly, why we as a country do it - we just consume, consume, consume.

It's one of the few books that I've read in a few years where I think the title doesn't explain the book well, and a different one might have lent itself better to the actual material inside.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You should read it, frankly May 11, 2006
Sure, this book is about eating, but it's also a satisfying quest, like a good road movie. Jason Fagone takes us around the world to see best and the worst of this offbeat activity -- the worst is truly, deeply upsetting -- and to search for meaning in all those HDBs (hot dogs and buns). Often funny, sometimes profane, never boring, this book is a thoughtful work of serious journalism and great storytelling.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yum! April 27, 2006
By Grace
This book is really an interesting look at how we now live in the subculture of no subculture. Because of the lightning quickness of computers through satellites and cable, any new thought or movement is just waiting its turn to become a temporary reality show.
Fagone is a great writer.... I think once people get past the niche-iness of the subject matter, and give it a read, they'll find it a thoughtful look at today's "reality tv" society.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Jason Fagone -- a smart, likable
I recently met the author, Jason Fagone -- a smart, likable, modest guy -- and wanted to check out some of his writing. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jason Margolis -- Reporter
3.0 out of 5 stars Gag me!
Oh my. I almost couldn't get past some of the chapters. A good character study of the fringe element that is competitive eating. The book got a little long and repetitive. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Weekly Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Horsemen of the Esophagus
I purchased this used book as a gift for my son (we are avid followers of the July 4 Hot Dog Eating Contest from Coney Island). Read more
Published on November 16, 2011 by Barbara Moran
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible
I am shocked at all of the 5 star reviews! This book is poorly written-jumps around from different subjects and venues. Read more
Published on February 11, 2010 by Jenny Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Delish!
I loved this book. Fagone writes in a style that's as engaging and erudite as Malcolm Gladwell and David Foster Wallace, and he brings an excitement and awe to a subject that many... Read more
Published on September 24, 2007 by mungo181
5.0 out of 5 stars Follows the author's journey to twenty-seven eating contests on two...
HORSEMEN OF THE ESOPHAGUS: COMPETITIVE EATING AND THE BIG FAT AMERICAN DREAM follows the author's journey to twenty-seven eating contests on two continents, from the U.S. Read more
Published on July 27, 2006 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying
Competitive eating has to be one of the signs of the collapse of American culture. Or, is it? For one year Jason Fagone explores the cesspool of commercial gluttony and comes... Read more
Published on June 2, 2006 by John
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