A Global History
Distributed for Reaktion Books
In the past decade, the number of Americans who consider themselves runners more than doubled—in 2008, more than 16 million Americans claimed to have run or jogged at least 100 days in the year. Though now running thrives as a convenient and accessible form of exercise, it is no surprise to learn that the modern craze is not truly new; humans have been running as long as they could walk. What may be surprising however are the myriad reasons why we have performed this exhausting yet exhilarating activity through the ages. In this humorous and unique world history, Thor Gotaas collects numerous unusual and curious stories of running from ancient times to modern marathons and Olympic competitions.
Amongst the numerous examples that illustrate Gotaas’s history are King Shulgi of Mesopotamia, who four millennia ago boasted of running from Nippur to Ur, a distance of not less than 100 miles. Gotaas’s account also includes ancient Egyptian pharaohs who ran to prove their vitality and maintain their power, Norwegian Vikings who exercised by running races against animals, as well as little-known naked runs, bar endurance tests, backward runs, monk runs, snowshoe runs, and the Incas’ ingenious infrastructure of professional runners.
The perfect gift for the sprinter, the marathoner, or the daily jogger, this intriguing world history will appeal to all who wish to know more about why the ancients shared our love—and hatred—of this demanding but rewarding pastime.
1 Messengers and Forerunners
2 A Primordial Human Trait
3 In Honour of the Gods
4 Roman Games
5 Elephant Races and Chinese Tales
6 The Running Monks
7 Racing against Horses
8 Wagers, Clocks and Brooms
9 French Enlightenment and German Health Education
10 Mensen Ernst and Captain Barclay
11 Buffalo Heart for Breakfast
12 Bluffing and Handicapping
13 The Revival of the Olympic Games
14 Running Round a Track
15 Finnish Sisu
16 Ultrarunning as Nation-building
17 Race across America
18 Dubious Race Theories
19 War and Peace
20 In the Service of the State
21 The Dream Mile
22 Africa Arrives
23 Loving the Landscape of Pain
24 The Jogging Revolution
25 Big City Marathons
26 Marathon Women
27 Mr Comeback
28 Stars, Business and Doping
29 Running with Zen
30 Running like Ostriches
31 Striding Out of Poverty
32 How Fast Can a Human Being Run?
"From starting-gun to finishing tape may be a clean ten seconds, but behind that moment swirl a few thousand years of human joy and despair and endeavour—this seems to be the argument of Gotaas's rich and engrossing book."
"An admirable attempt to cover the running phenomenon, not merely in its cultural and historical sweep but also in its philosophy. Gotaas starts by giving us some of the fascinating history of running, showing that it has been part and parcel of human life since our earliest days and has featured prominently in cultures ranging from that of the Incas . . . to Sumeria. . . . It is the attempts by Gotaas to get beneath the surface of running that provide the book’s most revelatory moments."—Matthew Syed, Times (UK)
“As well as being vital to our early survival, running is a universal form of play, as this fascinating study shows . . . Gotaas’s research ranges as freely across the globe as it does through time. He pays as much attention to modern African champions as he does to European greats, carefully and colorfully describing the lives of overlooked luminaries such as Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome, and Henry Rono (Kenya’s ‘Mr Comeback’).”
“Gotaas has amassed a huge range of material here . . . rich in detail and anecdote.”