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The Underdog By Joshua Davis

Release date: 06th August, 2007
Publisher: Bantam Press

List Price: £7.99
Our Price: £6.39
You Save: £1.6 (20%)
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The Underdog:
One man's odyssey through the world's wackiest competitions
By Joshua Davis
Bantam Press

4sportsbooks.co.uk price: £6.39 saving 34% on rrp


Shortly after returning from a stint reporting on the war in Iraq, Joshua Davis was approached by a publishing agent and asked to write a book about how the digital revolution is changing the landscape of modern-day war. Unfortunately, he was too busy training to be a sumo wrestler. Considering that Joshua Davis is a 9st journalist-come-data-entry-clerk from San Francisco and you might fathom some idea of what this book is all about.

Disillusioned and unfulfilled by the humdrum of everyday life, Davis discovered an advert welcoming newcomers to the American national arm-wrestling competition. Intrigued by the prospect and against the wishes of his ever-patient and supportive wife Tara, he nonetheless entered.

Not surprisingly, he finished last in the four-strong field, yet this was enough to earn a ticket to Poland, an unofficial world ranking and a place on 'Team USA'. Immediately, Davis's love affair with the world's craziest competitions began.

Davis subsequently embarked upon his wild journey, venturing to Spain to work on his bullfighting, then sumo-wrestling men four times his size in Japan and before testing his endurance in Finland's World Sauna Championships.

This surreal odyssey uncovers a host of fascinating, offbeat characters striving for self-respect through comical or inappropriate sports, including a previously impoverished Indian backward-running ultra-marathoner whose exploits have brought him unimaginable wealth and social status.

Another interesting oddball appears in the form of Markku Mustonen, an enigmatic Finn who admits to consuming vast quantities of pain-killing drugs before testing himself against some of the fiercest saunas in the world. Despite being accustomed to high temperatures during his work at a steel-manufacturing factory, even Markku is used to suffering severe burns in pursuit of success in this most bizarre of 'sports'. Naturally, one questions the sanity of such individuals, yet their commitment, determination and absolute seriousness makes even the most crackpot pursuits seem somewhat noble. In addition, the warmth shown as Davis is welcomed into these weird subcultures offers a refreshing reflection of human nature.

'The Underdog' cannot be pigeon-holed; it is neither sporting biography, travelogue nor comedy, but rather a mix of the three which creates a very readable adventure of self-discovery.

Its success lies in the balance Davis manages to achieve in his writing - he approaches every obscure event seriously, always showing respect to those he meets, yet maintains a self-deprecating, comical tone that reminds us of the peculiarity of his exploits. At no stage does he achieve any notable success, but one cannot help but feel that this is beside the point. It begins as an attempt to discover at which Davis can excel, but concludes with the realisation that happiness and satisfaction are not necessarily related to excellence, success or even fame. Indeed, 'The Underdog' represents a reassuring confirmation of the old sporting adage that it's not winning that matters, it's the taking part that counts.

If you're looking for a serious book, this most certainly is not it. Rather, it is a weird and wonderful jaunt through some of the world's most outlandish contests. It celebrates the importance of individuality, reminds us that competition needn't always bring out the worst in people and, if you're willing to overlook the sometimes corny American narrative, is more than likely to make you laugh along the way.


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