What I Learned Reading 52 Books In 2014 (Part Two)

Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to the first full blog-post of 2015. By now my 52 books in 52 weeks (2014) challenge is finished, so I know whether or not I was successful. You’ll have to wait and see though. For those of you who missed the first part of this blog, you can find it here. Now, on with numbers 14-26.

14. Tricks Of The Mind by Derren Brown (3/5)


Overall, this was quite an enjoyable book. The main bulk of it is Derren speaking about various things that he does in his shows. He is quite open and honest regarding the fact that no magic is involved, but instead he manipulates situations and people to get what he wants. This honesty is really refreshing, and Derren is also very critical of people who aren’t so honest, such as mediums etc. The final section of the book on the scientific process is excellent. Derren examines the process by which evidence is gathered and how less scrupulous individuals can manipulate evidence to show what they wish to show. As a coach in an increasingly science-lead field, it is important to be able to understand the scientific process and use it to evaluate claims for specific products/supplements and training methodologies. Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science (which I read in 2013) is also brilliant in this respect, and anyone that reads scientific studies should certainly check it out.


15. Of Mice and Men (Penguin Classics) by John Steinbeck (5/5)


At the behest of my girlfriend, I was pushed to try out some fiction books during my challenge. I don’t always enjoy fiction, as I prefer to “learn” from my reading; as such, I picked a shorter book that I could bail out of if required. Turns out I read this book in a day, as I couldn’t put it down. It was really enjoyable, and the story absorbed me completely. Nothing to learn and take forwards into my coaching or training – although I did use the word “behest” in this paragraph, so perhaps I did learn something.


16. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (5/5)


Continuing on my fiction binge, I borrowed this from my sister. It was genuinely brilliant, and I enjoyed trying to deceiver the underlying Communist baiting that is going on beneath the storyline.


17. Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (3/5)


Punctuation, along with spelling and grammar, doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s probably once of the areas I struggled with most in school. As I’ve got older, I’ve gotten better at learning and seeing patterns, and reading plenty of books gives you exposure to correct grammatical and punctuation structures. Still, I thought it might be useful to read this to see if there was anything else I could learn. I did quite enjoy this book; it was interesting and funny in places. Some parts laboured the point a little bit though, which is why it only got three out of five. And just because I’ve read it doesn’t mean my grammar and punctuation will always be good, so please don’t take me to task.


18. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (4/5)


This was the book that took me the longest to read this year. It’s an odd book, because I found myself very absorbed in it, but at the same time not much actually happens in the story. Steinbeck does really well at painting a picture of how bleak the US was during the depression, and the desperate attempts people went to in order to survive. I’m not sure if the ending is stupid or profound, but the book overall transported me into what it must have been like to survive a in depression era US.


19. The Change Book: Fifty models to explain how things happen by Mikael Krogerus (2/5)


Similar to the Diagrams Book (#8), I wanted to enjoy this book. However, just like Duncan’s book, it failed to deliver what I hoped for – although that might be because I was expecting something different. The book deals with various issues that allow us to explain and change the world we live in. Each issue has a nice diagrammatical representative which can be interesting, along with text. It’s a short read, but ultimately a bit forgettable.


20. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1/5)


One of the books I enjoyed least this year. The main protagonist is just a spoilt, whiny guy (which I know is the point), and not much happens within the story. Still, the fact that I didn’t really like it means I’m probably not going to kill anyone famous.


21. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (3/5)


My final fiction book of the year, which I read in June. It’s quite a good story, and a reasonably enjoyable book that imagines a dystopian future. Now, back to non-fiction!


22. From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France by David Walsh (4/5)


I’ve always enjoyed books that purport to show what goes on outside of the public eye within sport. Obviously, having competed at the high level myself, I have reasonable insight into what its like – but this book blew my mind. Given Lance’s 2012 revelations regarding his doping, not much in this book came as a surprise. What was interesting is how Lance would and could manipulate people to discredit their stories, reducing the impact of their revelations. I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. Fortunately, I don’t think athletics has anywhere near the same drug issue that cycling has/had, and that doping is only committed by a small number of high level athletes. At least that’s my impression of what goes on in athletics – it could just be wishful thinking! After reading this book I also watched “The Armstrong Lie”, which is a really good documentary, and provides visuals for some of the scenes in the book.


23. Existencilism by Bansky (3/5)


This is a collection of Banksy’s early work. I like Bansky a lot, I think he puts across his message with humour, and makes really interesting art. His film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is brilliant, mostly because I can’t tell whether it’s actually a documentary, or him taking the mick out of the art scene completely. This book was a strategically placed short read, as I was running slightly behind schedule.


24. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden by Paul Arden (3/5)


Another short read, this book has a really interesting typography and picture layout. It’s mostly a series of mini-stories and quotes regarding how to think outside the box and better yourself. As an example, Arden was fired five times in his career, and says that they all helped him improve and better himself. The subtitle of this book is “The Worlds Best Selling Book”, which I thought was brilliant. This isn’t the worlds best selling book, but by making a claim like that (as it’s a title and not an actual claim, it’s alright) it probably increased sales above the expected level – which just goes to show that with creative advertising you can out do yourself. This made me think of all the self proclaimed gurus and fitness experts within the fitness/exercise/health/diet sphere, who are mostly just people with good advertising and marketing ideas. All of this illustrates the point that being able to objectively evaluate claims is really important.


25. I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game by The Secret Footballer (4/5)


I enjoy books that give me insight into other sports or operations, and how they work. This book is written by an anonymous, active footballer. Due to the fact that the author is anonymous, he can lift the lid on plenty of things without fear of recriminations. I always had an image that some footballers are not really nice people, and this book does nothing to remove that image. However, it does show a different side, regarding how hard it can be to rise to the top, what it feels like to play in the high pressure environment of the premier league (the author himself has depression), and how clubs operate. The picture painted of some managers is terrible, and it appears that some Premier league clubs are run like amateur outfits! An enjoyable and short read, I finished this in two days.


26. Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life by Joe Senna (3/5)


This book I written by Joe Senna, founder of the Spartan race series. Joe is a proper hard nut; he makes the toughest of these Spartan races continue until enough people have dropped out to declare a winner. Joe believes that in today’s world, we are too soft, and need to take a more Spartan approach to life. To an extent, I’m with him. As the westernised nations get fatter and fatter, one of the main issues is that its both too hard to avoid high calorie food, and too easy to avoid exercise. Added to this that our modern way of life doesn’t prepare us for dealing with set backs, and Joe believes that this is a potential cause of the increase in stress we see today. Again, I kind of see his point. As an example, when I was studying for my A-Levels, I used to wake up at 7am, do an hour of mobility work before school, go to school, get home around 4.45pm, eat, go to athletics training, come home and do my schoolwork. I never missed a homework deadline. And yet people in my classes would be saying that they didn’t have enough time to do their homework! What they actually meant was that they didn’t prioritise their homework above the other stuff they could do.


An additional example is that of people that I term “Energy Vampires”. These people love to moan, and think they are much worse off than you. If things are going well for you, they want to moan to bring you down to their level. They suck the energy out of you. Three times in my career I have suffered serious back injuries, and each time I made an effort not to let my issues affect my team-mates. At the Olympics early last year, I spent 3 days with my team, knowing in the back of my mind that I would have to withdraw from the Olympics. Instead of wallowing, I tried to do as much as I could to help them and make sure they would perform well. This continued once I got home, but they were still in the village. I tried to strike the right balance between being supportive and encouraging, but at the same time not making it all about me. If our lives were a bit harder, and we didn’t always have it easy as Joe says, maybe there would be less energy vampires?

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