I loved this little book. The conceit is that it is a recounting of a philosophy grad student who becomes enraptured with the world of MMA and follows two mid-west regional athletes through their ups and downs. Howley isn’t really a philosophy doctoral candidate, but she is a talented writer. The fighters depicted here (Sean Huffman and Erik Koch) are, however, very real, and are described with empathy and clarity. MMA fighting, especially in small regional shows, is a very hard way to make a living. That comes through in Howley’s depictions of poorly attended events, long work outs in small gyms, and injuries you don’t even want to think about.
As a journalistic piece, the book is top notch, but Howley takes it even further dealing in a nuanced way with the complexities of an intellectual immersing herself in the lives of these fighters for both intellectual and emotional reasons. Is it a bit distasteful to turn these men’s lives into a philosophical statement? Perhaps. But is it also legitimate to view their lives that way? Perhaps. These are the questions that should plague anyone who tries to write seriously about the lives of others and Howley takes the questions on in an interesting (if at times perhaps too circuitous) of a way.
All in all, a great book.