Review: Itzler’s Living with a Seal

Living with a Seal: 30 Days of Training with the Toughest Man On The Planet

Jesse Itzler


Rich New Yorker hires famed navy seal and ultra-endurance athlete David Goggins to come live with him for a month and train him. Goggins agrees with the condition that Itzler agrees to follow his every instruction, no questions asked. Hilarity and a lot of very serious work outs ensue.

The book is largely written for laughs, with Itzler trying to keep up with the demands of the world’s hardest drill sergeant, but there are a couple nuggets of wisdom in here. The most quoted is Goggin’s pronouncement that when you think you’re done, you’re only forty percent done. This is surely motivating (if unlikely to be actually true).

For me, the biggest lesson to take out of this arises when Itzler’s wife questions the purpose of some of the more ridiculous workouts and Goggins responds that there is no purpose.  There is no, real, purpose to any of this.

It does nothing and no one cares.

Athletic nihilism. My jam.

Goggins is a fascinating character (and someone I’ve written about before) he’s inspiring, for sure, but there’s also something dark in how driven he is. I enjoyed Itzler’s portrayal of him here (though Itzinger’s stories about himself, I could have done without). Still, I’d be more interested in a more in-depth look into who Goggins is, and how he got that way. Hopefully with all the publicity surrounding this book, someone will write that piece.

Recommended for the Enthusiast.

hey, I also made this quick page of bodyweight workouts inspired by the book. 


A Magical Adventure for Some; a Tale of Return and Venegence for Others: Homer’s The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Homer (trans. Robert Fagles)

The story of the heroes return from the war.  The story of a son in search of his father. The story of a woman using her guile to ward off her suitors and wait for the return of her love. The story of a man through intelligence and strength, defeating his enemies and returning his family to calm.

These plot lines are the true heart of the Odyssey, and to this old man, what gives the poem its power. Odysseus is both honorable and unethical, hell bent on returning home, willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Telemachus is young, impressionable, desperate to make a name of himself. Penelope is incredible, perhaps the only person in the poem about whom one cannot say a bad word. When they finally reunite, vengeance is brought down on those who tried to destroy their family. It isn’t complicated stuff. It is elemental. It still moves.

Of course there is also the cyclops, the sirens, and Gods intervening left and right. A young me was drawn in by these magical elements, but today it’s the through line of the man trying to return to his family, and his family trying to cope with his absence that resonates with me.
Perhaps this is why we’re still reading Homer, still translating him for new audiences, each book contains multiple readings (a magical tale of adventure for some, a dark homecoming tale of revenge for others) looking forward to what will come to the fore when I read it again someday.


Odysseus taking it to the suitors

Quick note: As with my most recent reading of the Iliad, I read this in the Fagel’s translation. I found the language direct, and powerful and would recommend this one over the Lattimore I previously read.

Review: Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
Samuel Delany

Delany’s memoir/ examination of 1970s era Times Square through the lens of late 1990s Times Square gentrification. This is a memoir of a young man exploring his sexuality in the in the porn theaters and sex shops of Times Square. It is also more than that. It is a clear refutation of the Giuliani idea that these spaces were of no social value. Indeed, for many mostly gay, mostly closeted, men Times Square in the 70s was one of the few places where they could be themselves.

Not that Rudy would have cared.

As always when Delany discusses sex, this book is graphic — really graphic. And like 1984, it is shocking how unsafe his sexual practices were.  But this book is about more than sex. It’s about the various relationships he built through that world, some transactional and anonymous, some deeply fulfilling. As a straight man whose first exposure to Times Square was just as the “clean up” began, this book was illuminating and, like much of Delany’s work, challenging.

Does he gloss over the darker aspects of sex work? Perhaps. And is the rampant unsafe sex as the specter of AIDS was rising alarming? Yes. But its still a helpful anecdote to the rhetoric of the revitalization of Times Square.

Reading this made me wonder, do we in our progressive present no longer need a place like Times Square? I doubt it. More likely, instead of allowing people to experiment and share with others, we’ve forced sexual discovery to take place online, and alone.

I think that must be some kind of loss.


Review: Chopra’s Shapeshifter

Shapeshifter: The Evolution of a Cricket Fan

(awaiting publication)
Samir Chopra

For many sports fans, myself included, our personal lives are intertwined with the fortunes of millionaires we have never met. I remember watching, with my father, when Brett Favre threw for four hundred yards the night after his own father died. I remember the fights I got into with my relatives around the coded racism of the country’s hatred for Barry Bonds, and I remember the joy and anger I felt, holding my infant son, when I watched Shabbazz Napier win the national championship and talk about how he’d gone hungry while leading UCONN to a multi-million dollar pay day.

This is what it means to be a sports fan – to have your personal history tied up in the history of sports teams. A critique can be made of caring this much about sports, but I’m not the one to make it. Just before writing this review, I checked the chances of the Giants making the post season. It’s not looking good.

Shapeshifter, by my friend, the philosopher Samir Chopra, is a memoir of a sports fan. A cricket fan, specifically, and the ways that he and his cricket fandom changed over the years. As Samir moves from a boy in Delhi to a man in New York City, his thoughts on the game, and his team allegiances change. In part, these changes are due to his changed circumstances, but also because of the changing nature of the teams themselves and geo-political upheavals. Its difficult to parse out how these things happen, but Samir focuses closely on his own feelings and rationalizations and paints a compelling picture of how our taste for the game effects our lives, and our lives our taste for the game. Along the way, Chopra pulls for Australia, Pakistan and India while also losing loved ones, immigrating, falling in and out of love, and wrestling with what it means to be a Indian-American, a husband, and a father.

There’s a lot of cricket in this book, and (like the stereotype Samir calls out) I do not understand cricket. That didn’t stop me from loving this book. While much of the cricket talk went right over my head, I could still appreciate the voice of a fan, explaining the sport he loves, and how that fandom reflected and informed everything else Though Samir’s sports and life story are different, I see a lot of myself in this work. I imagine other sports fan will as well.


Review: Mahler’s Ladies and Gentleman the Bronx is Burning

This, and many more reviews I’ve been posting lately originally appeared in 2007 on a now defunct livejournal.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City

Jonathan Mahler

This is exactly what a journalistic history book should be. Fast, fun, and informative, as the book reviewers would say. Plus, it’s about baseball, riots, tabloid journalism, politicians and serial killers all in New York in the 1970s. What’s not to like?

Its kind of hard to remember now, but New York in 1977 was a city on the verge of total and utter collapse. We’re talking bankruptcy, massive civil unrest, serial killers. Oh, and Reggie Jackson. If you give a shit about baseball and New York, or just really good writing, you should read this book.


Review: Braudel’s Perspective of the World

This review originally appeared in a now long defunct livejournal sometime around 2007.

The Perspective of the World: Civilization and Capitalism 15Th-18th Century, Vol. 3

Fernand Braudel

The final volume of this magnum opus tracing in minute, painful, detail the creation of capitalism in the west, and the precursors and repercussions of that creation in the rest of the world. For my reviews of the other two volumes, check here and here.

My tolerance for the detailed economic historiography that makes up a lot of this book is pretty low. The breadth of Braudel’s scholarship is still deeply impressive, but as I got to the last hundred pages, I found myself wanting to skip more and more of the detailed recounting of other authors scholarship.

The main take away from Volume Three is something that most people who are interested in the industrial revolution probably already agree on – this wasn’t a revolution in the modern Russian revolution sense. It was a change in the means of organizing society that few noticed while it was happening, and few even tried to understand until much later.* This of course leads to one of the questions that lefties are always arguing over – if one of the greatest reengineerings of society happened without anyone really knowing it was happening, then why on earth does anyone think they can come up with the next great plan by a decision by a central committee? Braudel doesn’t answer this, but all the evidence he gives would point to the conclusion that planned revolutions are a pipe dream.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

* Even Adam Smith, who came a little late to the party, didn’t really grasp what was going on.


Review: Levy’s Nothing Serious

This review (and the dozen or so others I’ve posted tonight) are all from a now long defunct livejournal and have been only minimally edited.
Nothing Serious
Justine Levy
Justine Levy is Bernard-Henri Levi’s daughter. This is her novel about life with a famous father she worships and how all her boyfriends both hate and want to be her father and how none of them can win her love like her father can.

It is basically crap. When I realize I have read things like this, sometimes I wonder about myself.

Not Recommended.