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The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions Hardcover – September 6, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; First Edition edition (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345476581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345476586
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 0.8 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #586,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The cover alone made me giggle in the aisle of my local bookstore . . . opening the book and reading the chapter titles made me laugh aloud . . . looking at some of the pictures had me guffawing in the aisle . . . I stopped reading in the aisle for fear of snorting and causing a scene.

This book is hilarious and touching all at once. An honest and lovely account of trying to figure out who we are in this post-modern generation of American dreamers. Josh's dedication to his wife Tara adds depth to this novel found in the humor section and his competitions are . . . absurd.

Favorite chapters? I can't decide between the sauna chapter where the author and his family roast themselves in Finland for a family bonding experience; the chapter about arm wrestling and imagining this tiny squirt of a man dying his hair ferocious red in an attempt to appear frightening; or the chapter that inspired the cover when he tries to be big, to be a sumo wrestler. Then again there is walking backwards . . .

In a time when laughter is scarce and the world is tough, Joshua Davis' book shines a light of hilarity that can strengthen our own hope and dare us to dream and do what we thought previously impossible. Enjoy the book, and congratulations Josh!
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Format: Hardcover
I wasn't sure what to expect. I read it in two days, and found myself laughing out loud, which is rare. I found the best part to be his description of becoming a 128 lb sumo wrestler, and being surrounded by "man fat" as he plowed into his opponent. There's a photo of a race, but everybody seems to be looking behind them. I couldn't figure it out until I started reading the chapter, that Mr. Davis decided to take up backwards running. It's amazing the feats he attempts to conquer, in his quest for a fulfilled, exciting life.

"The Underdog" is "What Color is Your Parachute" for an aging Gen-X, who want to feel unique and fulfilled, but have no idea how to do it. I recommend this book, not just for being well-written and enjoyable, but also for touching on how scary it is to grow up, take on adult responsibilities, and live up to the expectations of the family, partner, and self. Mr. Davis' self-deprecating humor is charming, and I found myself rooting for him. Maybe he would be a great matador, maybe he would win the Finnish sauna contest, maybe he would be happy with his life and find satisfaction with the mundane as well as the fantastic. Maybe.
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Format: Hardcover
A previous reviewer compares the author's work to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Considering a usually successful use of self-deprecating and anecdotal humor, I can understand the comparison between the author's style and Bill Bryson's style. The author is undeniably funny. Relying entirely on the author's passion for adventure, the narrative describes a theatrical series of events fit for a screenplay.

However, that is all this book offers and why the comparison to Bill Bryson falls well short of accurate. The strength of Mr. Bryson's writing is the purpose underlying the humor, especially self-recognition through experience. The reader can internalize Mr. Bryson's experiences, see the world from Bryson's vantage and ultimately identify with Mr. Bryson's motivation for writing the book.

Mr. Davis' The Underdog falls short of Mr. Bryson's achievements. Instead of relating to narrative, the reader must watch from the sidelines. In this case the author's strength is also his weakness. How many readers can identify with first hand-experiences of bull-fighting or sumo wrestling? The effect is, essentially, a Hollywood blockbuster in a book. What you see is entertaining, but fails to stimulate any further thought.

Furthermore, and what was most disappointing to me, was the lack of conclusion. I kept waiting for the author's epiphany to explode off the pages and into my conscious, but instead of an explosion I got a series of undeveloped thoughts more analogous to a shotgun at 200 yards than a grand-finale.
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Format: Hardcover
While we exchanged some emails and ideas after I'd read Joshua's article "Apocalypse Now," in the April, 2004 issue of Wired magazine, it did not prepare me for what was to come in his "Coming of Age" book. It is almost Chaplinesque in its story-line and delivery....

To say he has a hilarious choice of sports, by any conventional measure, is an understatement. Yet, despite of all the macho and/or weird engagements and the images they conjure - and you can go to Josh's web sites to see a good collection of them - I would argue that this is, in essence, a love story female readers can and will also appreciate.

Male cheerleading will probably fire up the imagination of the hot-blooded, only to be followed by ice swimming (or wife carrying)? Take your pick out of the 47 offbeat activities Joshua sweats through on the way to becoming a matador of some renown.

Out of all these crazy sports, backward running is my favorite. I finish my three mile jogging/running sessions with it. People say nothing (except their facial expressions) on the track, but you know what...my wife is for it. It's given me comfort to learn from this book that I could, one day, enter the Gambero D'Oro (The Golden Shrimp) race in northern Italy. Thank you, Joshua!
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