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Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream Paperback – May 22, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307237397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307237392
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,601,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recently met the author, Jason Fagone -- a smart, likable, modest guy -- and wanted to check out some of his writing. I wasn't all that interested in competitive eating prior to picking up this book, but the storytelling, writing, literary references, and historical research immediately got me hooked. His physiological descriptions of what happens to the body when we overeat are both fascinating and appalling.

Fagone straddles the line between disgusted chronicler of modern American gluttony and sympathetic ear for competitive eaters, men who have turned toward a "sport" for a moment of fame on ESPN, an escape from their banal and dreary existences. The author does a fantastic job painting vivid pictures of his subjects, detailed descriptions that are both harsh and flattering, candid yet empathetic portraits of men who stuff their faces for our entertainment, and their own egos.

In sum, the writing and tale is superb. This book does not make me want to watch competitive eating, far from it, but it does make me want to read more Jason Fagone.

OK, maybe I'll watch the Nathan's Challenge on the 4th of July, but through a much different set of lenses.
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