Running: A Global History, written by Thor Gotaas, was published in 2009.
What they say
Taken from the Amazon listing:
It is probably not that surprising to learn that the modern craze for running is not new; our species has been running since we were able to stand upright. What may be surprising however are the many ways and reasons we have performed this undignified, painful, exhausting and yet exhilarating activity down the ages. In this original, humorous and almost improbable world history, Thor Gotaas brings us many unusual and curious stories showing the remarkable diversity of running, from earliest times to the immense popularity of running today at athletics meetings, World Championships, and Olympic games. Amongst the myriad examples are King Shulgi of Mesopotamia, who four millennia ago boasted about his ability to maintain high speeds while running long distances, and once claimed to have run from Nippur to Ur, a distance of not less than 100 miles. In ancient Egypt the pharaoh had to run to prove his vitality and to hold on to power; Norwegian Vikings exercised by running races against animals; and then there are the little-known naked runs, whore runs, endurance tests at bars, backward runs, monk runs, snowshoe runs, the Incas’ ingenious infrastructure of professional runners and the running culture of Native Americans. In this unique book Gotaas has written a world history that will come as a revelation to everyone who reads it. It will appeal to all who wish to know more about why the ancients shared our love, and hatred, of this physically demanding yet spiritually rewarding pastime.
About the Author
Thor Gotaas is a writer who specialises in folklore and cultural history. His previous books include The Gypsies (2000), The First in the Race: The History of Cross-Country Skiing in Norway (2003), and Ski Makers: The History of Norwegian Skis (2007).
What I say
This book is quite a tome at about 400 pages long with only a handful of small pictures and fairly small print, so it took me some time to read it. But that is not to say it’s not a joy to read. Despite having been translated from Gotaas’ native Norwegian the book reads really well and is thoroughly enjoyable.
As the title suggests, the book offers a history of running around the world. We start at early man with a brief touching on the premise set down in ‘Born to Run’ of homo-erectus/neanderthal man, through to the Mayans and Incas postal system involving knots on a piece of rope. Gotaas discusses Phedippides and Eucles, and the origin of the marathon. Running in Ancient Greece, the shock of runners in Finland before they became a world-beating force to be reckoned with, through to the jogging boom in Australia and America.
There are very few subjects not covered in the book, and although Gotaas apologises in the preface for possibly sticking mainly to Europe as it is the area from where he comes – but I felt it was a very balanced account of the importance and progress of running.
In summary, it is a delight to read. Gotaas has a great tone throughout, and the vast array of information is presented and delivered in a lovely fluid style rather than just bombarding the reader with facts and stats. As a relatively young guy both in physical and ‘training’ age I knew very little about this wonderful sport of ours, and this book has really helped fill many gaps in my knowledge, especially with reference to track athletes of the 20th Century who set the targets for the current crop. I suspect though that even an experienced, hardened athlete would take a lot away from this book
I could not recommend this book enough.