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The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It Paperback – Bargain Price, April 6, 2005
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
- Publisher : Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 6, 2005)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 344 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0618562095
- ISBN-13 : 978-0618562091
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.75 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #117,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The PERFECT MILE by Neal Bascomb recounts the 1950’s epic chase across 3 continents by 3 remarkable runners of the once presumed impossible 4 minute mile.
There are many ways to read this book — history, Roger Bannister’s training methods, mental fortitude,, amateur athletics crazy rules, etc. All are good and credible reads.
However, in this book review, I read the book as a template for CHARACTER — notably, the character of the secondary protagonist John Landy.
No matter how your read this book — READ IT. This is a highly recommended history that will not disappoint.
See you at the Finish Line,
Running is, in my opinion, a fairly boring sport to watch. And the stories portrayed here can quite easily be told in a dull manner. But worry not: Bascomb is a brilliant writer and the tale he spins in these pages makes me want to become a track and field fan. I found the build up thrilling, the back stories captivating, and the training details thoroughly interesting. No dull moments whatsoever.
This book is well written, well researched, and flawlessly executed. I completely enjoyed it and highly recommend it to anyone interested in running, sport, history, or some combination of the three.
The book starts by giving us the background of our 3 runners: Wes Santee from the United States, John Landy from Australia and Roger Bannister from England. We also get to meet some interesting characters at this time: 2 very interesting ones are Emil Zatopek and Percy Cerutti.
As the narrative unfolds, you will find yourself rooting for each individual to be the one to break the record. Each one works hard towards his goal while keeping that goal in the context of his overall life. Here is a passage from the book about Bannister's approach:
"Bannister wanted to capture the four-minute mile to show how one could achieve athletic greatness without the sacrifice of everything else in life."
While they each have coaches, they also need to determine what worked best for them individually. John Landy learned a lot from Percy Cerutti but then reached a point where there was no longer anything to be gained (and plenty to be lost) by continuing to follow his advice. Here is a quote from Landy: "I'm taking no more advice from anyone. I simply want to put together the best of what I've seen."
As they work through their respective challenges and setbacks, we see them each continue to push to achieve their goal - while being aware that all 3 of them were trying to achieve the same thing on 3 separate continents. The competition brings out the best in each them. Each man shows incredible grit and determination to trying to break the 4 minute barrier.
Roger Bannister received some key coaching advice toward the end of the pursuit and it proved to be key. His coach (Franz Stempfl) served as the last piece of the puzzle. Here is a great quote from the book:
"Stampfl offered suggestions and guidance. He tried never to push too hard. From the start, he knew that Bannister needed three things if he was to run the four-minute mile: pacemakers to carry him through the first three laps; more strength in his legs; and complete belief in himself."
On May 6th, Bannister broke the barrier (3:59.4). He later wrote that ""No words could be invented for such supreme happiness." On June 21st, just 46 days later, John Landy shattered Bannister's record with a time of 3:58. Our third hero, Wes Santee came very close several times but, in my view, was defeated by the only real villain in the book - the AAU.
The book then showcases the head-to-head race between Bannister and Landy. The story of the race is well told and after reading it, I recommend watching the video of the race (which is available on the internet).
I would like to close this book review with brief quotes from each of the runners:
Landy: "Running gave me discipline and self-expression.... It has all the disappointments, frustrations, lack of success and unexpected success, which all reproduce themselves in the bigger play of life."
Santee: "Hard work pays off...You have to be just as disciplined to run a business as you do to train for an athletic event."
Bannister: "Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances."
For anyone who enjoys reading about the heroic pursuit of human excellence, I highly recommend this book (the book itself is a great achievement as well).