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The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions Hardcover – September 6, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
A five-foot-nine, 129-lb weakling with a long history of not measuring up, Davis set off in search of unlikely venues in which to discover his athletic gifts, whatever they might be. He entered the U.S. arm-wrestling championship, took up bull-fighting in Spain, squared off against Sumo wrestlers four times his size and nearly scalded himself to death in an extreme sauna competition in Finland. He continued to fail, often spectacularly, but along the way he gained a new appreciation for his wife's eye-rolling devotion and the maturity to master his qualms about fatherhood. Most important for his bourgeoning journalism career, he found a trove of offbeat characters striving for self-respect through bizarre or inappropriate sports, including an Indian backward-running ultra-marathoner whose Guinness Book exploits lifted him from low-caste Untouchability to wealth and status. With an eye for tacky detail and absurdist humor, Davis recounts his hilarious misadventures among these colorful subcultures, but he takes the struggles and triumphs seriously. The result is a funny, beguiling quest that proves that losing is more enlightening-and entertaining-than winning. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Davis was once the fourth-ranked lightweight arm wrestler in the U.S. Of course, there were only three other competitors in his weight class, but still. He won a trophy, and he didn't get a broken arm. Davis, a data-entry clerk in San Francisco, hit upon the arm-wrestling scheme as a way to win enough money to buy his wife a new bathtub, but it launched an obsession with finding and then competing in steadily more demanding and outrageous contests. A short list: he participates in a backward-running race in Italy; he sumo-wrestles a 500-pound man in Japan; he hunkers down for the Sauna World Championships (How much steam can you take?). This is a decidedly weird book, but weird in a way that tells us all sorts of things about what drives people to compete against each other. Ultimately, Davis contends that the nature of the competition doesn't matter; it's the act of competing, the comparing of strengths and weaknesses, that gives us what we crave: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Though without a trusty sidekick (Tara doesn't quite fit the bill in terms of taking orders), Davis-as-Quixote finds his competitions, and in turn his identity, in places unusual for a young data entry clerk. Poland, Italy, Finland, Spain, India, and California provide the windmill dragons of Davis' quest to simply have a shot at being the best.
I love the whole idea, and I am still mulling my own prospects over in my head as I find my previous years settling into the ruts of mediocrity. Can I say that I've given myself every chance at doing whatever it is that I want, to be that ideal version of me? I'm no Joshua Davis, and I don't really want to wrestle sumo, but I would like to find my own bits of adventure and competition. Without them, we are mundane. And Davis has shown what it means to take the bull by the horns in more ways than one.
I've done the backwards running thing, and it was interesting. But, the magnitude of the odds Davis faces in "Underdog" are astounding, and all together unbelievable. I admire a man who does these things, and aspire to be someone who can write such a perspective of them so excellently.
The voice is fresh, deadly honest, and the plot is brilliant! It read like light fiction, but the reality of it will blow you away. Like many of the other reviewers, I killed the book over a weekend not only because I had the time, but also because the story pulled me along with simultaneous humor and adventure.
I really do highly recommend it.
The son of a "failed" beauty queen, this young man bursts with talent and ambition. With a loving and supportive wife allowing him the chance to try and fulfill his dreams, he ventures into the little known worlds of bizarre competitions: Arm wrestling, Sumo wrestling, bullfighting, backward running, and perhaps, the strangest thing I've ever imagined, competitive sauna-sitting. (He doesn't call it that, but that's what it was to me).
At one point after spending time in the steamy sauna, he describes his feelings as "buoyant, like I was filled with helium." That's how I felt while reading this book. It's light, original, funny and brave. I highly recommend the read and look forward to future work by this rising star.
From the author of "I'm Living Your Dream Life," and "The Things I Wish I'd Said," McKenna Publishing Group.
Anyone who has ever felt less than adequate in this huge, crazy world will indentify on some level with the author's pursuit for exellence. I can't think of anyone I wouldn't reccomend it to!
The writing is, in my opinion, very good, perhaps excellent. First and foremost: I laughed, for the humor is constant and clever (and, generally, doesn't come at others' expense, as to contrast much of modern popular comedy -- how refreshing). Likewise, the book is as well-written from a literary perspective, with a nice, engaging format and some surprisingly polished prose. And, for what it's worth, I found the author to be relatively likeable, rather than antagonistic or larger-than-life or some such, in a way that genuinely made me want to read about him and his experiences. Even from the outset, 'Underdog' was, for me, a good, satisfying read.
However, I took equal pleasure in the book's finer substance, primarily is travel-related elements. As rich as it is humor-wise, 'Underdog' functions as well as a travel book, with as much cultural and geographical exploration as any proper travelogue (plus the usual psychological studies, too). Also, the book serves as an unlikely, yet meaningful, examination of the very concept of competition, with much in the way of psychology and sociology here as well. Really, there's a lot crammed into this book, and at a relatively slim page-count, no less. Impressive.
The only reason I gave four stars instead of five is because, while great, the book wasn't necessarily a life-changing experience (for which I reserve a five-star rating). Could I give four and a half stars, I would.
My thanks goes out to this book's author, subjects, and publisher. I am grateful for, and have benefited from, your work and service.
* * *
Some notable quotes from this book:
"It turned out that there were only three other competitors in the division. I was fourth out of four. But that still made me the fourth-highest-ranked lightweight armwrestler in the United States." -- p.16
"'And on the other side of the ring,' Andrew purred through the mike, 'at 134 pounds, we have the lightest man to ever sumo at the U.S. Open.' I popped in my mouth guard and trotted out to the ring. The paramedics in the corner stood up." -- p.92
"As Veerabadran said, everybody has to make their own meaning." -- p.141
"Sanskrit submarine bubble. What was I thinking about a second ago? Left ear devil dagger. Oh, my god. This was a nasty way to die." -- p.187