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November 24, 2014

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Book review: ‘Drop Dead Healthy’

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The Details

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
By A.J. Jacobs, $26

A.J. Jacobs deserves a break. The guy’s had a busy decade. First, he wanted to become the smartest man in the world, so he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. (It’s really long, turns out.) Then he wanted to reconnect with humanity, so he spent a year following the laws set forth in the Bible. Hundreds of ’em. (Really hard, turns out.) And Jacobs just completed his third extreme self-help quest, which you can read about in Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.

The book covers everything from skin care (use a shot-glass of sunscreen every couple hours) to nutrition (dried mangoes: “They’re just Snickers that happen to grow on trees”) to hygiene (close the lid before you flush—the explosion sends droplets of bacteria flying onto your toothbrush). But rather than reviewing the book here—it’s fun and informative—let’s take a step back and ask what Jacobs has learned from his decade of extreme self-improvement?

Perhaps everything can be summed up by his take on Colorado doctor Steven Bratman. Bratman says that our culture has “orthorexia” (an obsession with healthy foods) and that we should eat what we want. Jacobs writes, “I don’t think Bratman is an idiot. Mind you, I don’t agree with him. His conclusions are far too radical for me. But I believe he provides an important cautionary voice.”

Classic A.J. Those aren’t minced words; that’s informed moderation. Jacobs subjects himself to the extreme and usually finds that trends become popular for a reason. But to see this, he has to go through the people who take the trends too far, as they’re the ones who attract the media. For many writers, these extremists overshadow everything that’s sensible about the trend. But Jacobs is able to look past the craziness and see the worth in most every practice.

It took him a decade, but I think he figured out the key to happy living: moderation. It’s an old, unsexy idea, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

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