Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Hell on Two Wheels: Buy it, Read it, Enjoy it.

Amy Snyder's new book, Hell on Two Wheels, is a thoroughly enjoyable account of the 2009 edition of the Race Across America (RAAM). Having followed the 2009 race pretty closely through RAAM and racer blogs, it was amazing to learn about the race and the racers from an entirely different and more intimate perspective.

While I don't want to race RAAM any more than I did before reading the book, I also don't want to race it any less, which was the impact that viewing the film "Bicycle Dreams" had on me when it first came out. The book focuses less on the suffering and tragedy of the race and more on the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the racers. Snyder also does a great job of documenting the context and history of RAAM, which promises to make the book accessible and interesting to an uninitiated, general audience.

My only complaint, really, is that Snyder's prose could have benefited from more aggressive editing as there is some senseless repetition in some areas. Nearly every time one South African racer is discussed, for instance, she is referred to as an "uber-athlete." Once would have been enough. That said, the account really is a page-turner and Snyder succeeds in conquering what she describes as a "diabolically difficult" task from a journalistic perspective with her subjects spread out over 3,000 miles over the course of two weeks. One of my favorite aspects of the book comes at the end when Snyder follows up a year after the race with participants and shares their reflections on the experience which are fascinating.

Hell on Two Wheels provides readers with an intimate and sensitive account of the world's toughest endurance challenge. It should be read by all who are interested in endurance sports and the frontier of human performance.

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