Mini Book Reviews of ‘Into the Furnace: How a 135-Mile Run Across Death Valley Set My Soul on Fire’ and ‘Stronger Than the Dark: Exploring the Intimate Relationship Between Running and Depression’ by Cory Reese

A few times in my life I’ve enjoyed a book so much I immediately pick up something else by the same author. It almost never works out for me. Perhaps it’s because of my high expectations or maybe it’s the mathematical improbability of one writer making magic twice in a single lifetime, whatever it is, I am almost always disappointed the second time around. I recently took a chance on ultra runner and author Cory Reese by reading two of his books back to back. I really enjoyed Into the Furnace and then took a chance on Stronger Than the Dark. Oh my, I was not disappointed! What follows are mini reviews of both titles.

Into the Furnace: How a 135 Mile Run Across Death Valley Set My Soul on Fire: On the surface, this is a book about Badwater, but in reality, it is about so much more! Funny, heart wrenching, and honest. As a 50 year old wanna be ultra runner, I’ll never run through Death Valley, but there are some philosophical gems in the pages of this book I can apply to my life. Such a good read!

Stronger Than the Dark: Exploring the Intimate Relationship Between Running and Depression: In his latest book, ultra runner Corey Reese takes a deep dive into the ocean that is his depression. He is powerfully, and somewhat painfully, transparent. He discusses the cause, symptoms, and side effects of his depression honestly. In doing so, he gives the reader permission to be honest about their own pain. Ultimately, Reese argues that running saved his life. But it’s not just the simple act of running long distances, that seems fo have saved him, rather, running is the vehicle used to transport him to a place where he could experience healing. This is an important book for anyone who has experienced depression. I honestly had difficulty putting it down.StrIn his latest book, ultra runner Corey Reese takes a deep dive into the ocean that is his depression. He is powerfully, and somewhat painfully, transparent. He discusses the cause, symptoms, and side effects of his depression honestly. In doing so, he gives the reader permission to be honest about their own pain. Ultimately, Reese argues that running saved his life. But it’s not just the simple act of running long distances, that seems fo have saved him, rather, running is the vehicle used to transport him to a place where he could experience healing. This is an important book for anyone who has experienced depression. I honestly had difficulty putting it down.

I highly recommend both of these titles for anyone interested in running or ultra running. Reese has a way of using running to address bigger, more important subjects. I hear he has a third book as well, and I can’t wait to read it.

Mini Book Review of “Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food” by Lysa TerKeurst

Before I review the book, I feel I must first acknowledge that I am certainly no Lysa TerKeurst’s target audience. Made to Crave is written from a female perspective to females. TerKeurst frequently references the “Jesus Girls” she had in mind when she wrote this book. Ultimately, Made to Crave is about food addiction and the spiritual ramifications of an unhealthy relationship with food. TerKeurst’s premise is that we are all designed to crave, as revealed in Scripture, ““How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:1 – 2). Unfortunately, many of us misplace our cravings and try to satisfy them with food. I believe TerKeurst’s approach is much needed in face of a dilemma that is so common. Though I am not the target audience, I highly recommend this book to any Christian who has placed food on the throne of God. It helps address the mental and spiritual sides to weight loss.

Mini Book Review of “Reborn on the Run” by Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett

This book depicts the incredible journey of a meth addict turned ultra runner. The feats that author Catra Corbett accomplishes on the trail, are incredible. Reading her story helped encourage me that I can recover from my days as a Type 2 diabetic. In comparison, my mountains aren’t nearly as big as hers. Unfortunately, there are enough typos and errors in this book that it detracted, at least for me, from the amazing story. I’m glad I read it, however, and I am now a fan of Cards Corbett.

Mini Book Review of ‘Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post 9/11 Spy Class’ by T.J. Waters

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If you are looking for a comprehensive examination of the CIA, this is not your book. Rather, this is book explores the training of a single CIA class. The 11th Class of spies was the CIA’s first class following 9/11. What made this story interesting to me is that 9/11 marks a pivotal point in the history of espionage in out country. In all appearances, human gathered intelligence had failed us in a major way. This presented a choice for the CIA. Would they continue with business as usual or would they learn from their mistakes. This book explores that struggle by telling the story of the largest class of spies in CIA history.

This book was a bit of a deviation for me. Most of the espionage titles I’ve read center around the Cold War Era. What surprised me was how much of the training and experiences of Class 11 seemed similar to what the CIA has always done. It seems to me that in many aspects, the CIA was playing catchup in an attempt to keep itself relevant. That was a bit of a disappointed. What wasn’t disappointing, however, were the sacrifices and motivation of the would be Case Officers. If you’ve never read anything about the training of CIA Case Officers, you will find this book informative. You will learn what life is like on The Farm and how such training impacts the trainees and their families.

I found this glimpse into the family life of the author very interesting. I’m not sure if T.J. Waters has written anything else, but I would be interested to see what his CIA life was life post training.

Mini Book Review of “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy” by Lindsey Moran

blowingmycoverI really enjoy true life, behind the scenes, espionage titles. In most cases, truth is far more incredible than fiction. This title from Lindsey Moran should have checked off all my boxes, but in many ways it left me wanting. Her story was incredible enough; as a CIA Case Worker with an interesting foreign post, her story was intriguing. I especially enjoyed the details she shared concerning her time in training. She also did a good job portraying the melancholy I am sure many CIA Case Workers feel. Unfortunately, despite her service to her country, she almost conveys a sense of regret. She doesn’t seem proud of her career (as I feel she should). It’s hard to explain entirely … I could understand a sense of regret, however, she almost seems remorseful and maybe even spiteful. The author conveys a sense of regret for the sacrifices she made regarding her personal life in favor of her professional one and ultimately (no spoilers here) is faced with a decision.

While I enjoyed parts of this book, there are much better ones out there.

Mini Book Review of ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins

CantHurtMeDuring a conversation about ultra running, a friend asked me  if I had ever heard of David Goggins. He billed Goggins as the most inspirational man he had ever heard of and pointed out the author and ultra runner was a former Navy Seal. I was immediately interested because I am huge fan of the Seals. They are  the closest thing to actual, real-life super heroes I know of, so I immediately looked Goggins up and bought his book, Can’t Hurt Me. 

I don’t want to steal any of his thunder, but I will say that Goggins is, indeed, incredible. The things he has overcome and accomplished is beyond amazing. His life history is remarkable … but I wouldn’t necessarily say he is inspirational. I feel inspired when I read a book that encourages me to go out and reach beyond myself, and Goggins certainly attempts to do that, but he is so practically inhuman in the things he has accomplished that I can’t really relate. For instance, Goggins wanted to be a Navy Seal so he lost 100 pounds in a very short time frame and went out and did it. Likewise, he wanted to be an ultra runner, so he went out and completed a hundred mile event with no runs leading up to it. Who does that? He did, but can anyone else? I certainly can’t. I’m at the other end of the spectrum having just completed my first sub forty minute 5k. It took me two years to run a full half marathon. I want to be an ultra runner, but I’m no where near ready and I know it. As such, there’s really nothing from this book that I can take away and apply to my own life.

Goggins is incredible. He is other worldly. He is a hero, and I am now a fan, however, he is not inspiring. Physically and mentally, Goggins is a spectacle. He refers to himself as the hardest man alive and he may just be. I enjoyed his book and will be on the lookout for him on podcasts and such, but while he amazes me, he does not necessarily inspire me.

If want to be amazed, buy this book. Be forewarned, however – Goggins is a former Navy Seal and uses language you would expect a Navy Seal to use. If you are easily offended by four letters words, avoid this one.

Mini Book Review of ‘Training for Ultra’ by Rob Steger

traingultraMini  first became familiar with Rob Steger through his excellent podcast entitled Training for Ultra. In the podcast, Steger connects with all sorts of personalities from the Ultra Running community and recaps races and training methods. He has frequent reoccurring guests which serves to engage the listener in a way that few podcasts can accomplish. Along the way, Rob shares his own story of how he became an ultra runner.

I was eager to learn more about his story, so I picked up this book for my kindle. Essentially, this book serves as a detailed account of the first three years of the author’s ultra running endeavors. I was amazed at how much he accomplished and how far he grew as a runner in just three years. While he points out he is a ‘middle of the pack’ runner, Rob Steger has accomplished amazing things. Early in the book, he states that his goal is to inspire people to run, and he has done just that.

This book will make you want to train for an ultra event. i enjoyed it a great deal.

Mini Book Review of ‘Fitness Confidential’ by Vinnie Tortorich

I bought this book hoping to learn more about author’s no sugar, no grains diet (or NSNG). I suppose I expected it to be like other formulaic diet books out there. You know, an intro to the plan followed by the phases of the plan, followed by suggested recipes. However, that wasn’t the case. In all honesty, Tortorich spends little time presenting his diet. As it turns out, “no sugar no grains” is really as complicated as it gets. He spends more time exposing the cesspool the fitness, health, and diet industry has become and even more time chronicling his own journey. I won’t repeat them here for fear of ruining the book, but Tortorich’s battle with his health and fitness demons made for a good read. He is a straightforward guy and cuts through the usual nonsense one would expect from a health expert. His foul language and bluntness may offend some, but I actually kind of found his book refreshing.

For anyone who does want to learn more about the NSNG Diet, Torotorich is a prolific podcaster and Twitter user and he tends to share most of his knowledge for free.

Mini Book Review of Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back From the Dead by Brian Boyle

41rpGd0gB6L._AC_US218_Brian Boyle should of been dead. After a collision with a dump truck – you read that right, dump truck, he was left with multiple injuries and placed in a medically induced coma while a team of surgeons attempted to put his body back together.  He was in such bad shape that every internal organ was in the wrong place. If it wasn’t for his athleticism and good health before the accident, Boyle certainly would have died. A college level swimmer before the accident, he was left learning how to walk. His story of slowly coming out of coma and being aware of his surroundings, but not being able to communicate or even move gripped me and drew me in. I found myself rooting for him at every step of the way.

Boyle’s story is a success story that culminates in the Kona Ironman Championships. The remarkable part of his story, however, is the support he had along the way. From his parents to the team of doctors and therapists that managed to put him back together; it took a team to get him to Kona.

I love stories of people who beat the odds to accomplish greats feats and Boyle’s story certainly qualifies. He was remarkably close to death and eventually began to thrive. This book was a great read.

Mini Review of “Operation Ironman: One Man’s Four Month Journey from Hospital Bed to Ironman Triathlon” by George Mahood

operationThis book chronicles the author’s journey from hospital bed to Ironman. Having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor intertwined with his spinal chord that left him with devastating back pain, George Mahood went through a tricky and dangerous procedure to have it removed. While still bedridden from the surgery, he made the decision to complete an Ironman triathlon in just four short months. With spotty training hampered by his recovery, Mahood set out to do just that. His experience is impressive. It should be pointed out, however, that Mahood wasn’t exactly starting from scratch. While humble about his athletic prowess, he had completed a marathon, long-distance bike rides, and swim training prior to his procedure.

With that said, I still enjoyed his journey and was greatly impressed by it. Heck, I’m impressed by anyone that has what it takes to complete an Ironman. Mahood has a humorous perspective and tells his story with ease. He is also British, which means he writes from a voice that sounded slightly quirky and endearing to me.

Reader’s should probably be forewarned that the author’s vernacular includes very occasional and, seemingly random, curse words included for humor. I found them more distracting than humorous; fortunately, they were rare.