Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors", a Review

Randy Roach’s “Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors, Volume 1” was as long overdue to the fitness world as John Peterson’s “Isometric Power Revolution.” To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a book as comprehensive about the origins of the iron game and physical culture’s nutritional history as this book is. I’ve been impatiently waiting for this book ever since I read Roach’s article on the Weston A Price Web site. When I got the book in my hands, it took me only 5 days to read the 500+-page novel. That isn’t to say that it’s wide spaced, large print easy reading. It’s absolutely enthralling and informative.

Randy does an impressive job of being, for the most part, non-biased. Even though he’s more of a bodybuilder, he is very even-handed in handing out praise and scorn over the movers and shakers of the physical culture world as it split into its rival factions of Weider, Hoffman, and Rader. His only apparent slip (as I see it anyway) is by labeling the Golden Age of Bodybuilding as essentially drug free, even though Bill Pearl, Dave Draper, Doug Howorth all admitted to using steroids. Judging by his writing, it’s hard for me not to conclude that these are the men that inspired him to start bodybuilding.

Randy also does a great job of interpreting the information that he gathered. One problem with studying history is that anyone can research, read, or study it. What is often lacking is the ability to draw a reasonable, truthful conclusion from what is analyzed. Randy generally didn’t have this problem.

Still, he could have done better at using his powers of interpretation to make more sense of the murkiness surrounding the advent of steroids in the iron game. While he shined light on the little known fact that the Germans and the Americans were synthesizing testosterone in the 1930’s and 1940’s, he was inconclusive about their use by weight lifters and bodybuilders during that time period. Personally, I think it’s unlikely because of the nasty side-effects some of those early brews had that Randy referenced(like the prostate enlargement problem).

Honestly, I’m a very picky person and overall, my criticisms should pale in comparison to what's good about this book. You’ll find out the sometimes scary origins of the foods that we eat today (did you know that hydrogenation was invented for CANDLES?). You’ll realize how big of a footprint that Bernarr McFadden left on physical culture and how his uneasy (at best) relationship with the AMA turned much of th medical establishment against strength training for a while. His emphasis may have been on nutritional history but he veers off into the personal histories of Rheo Blair, Vince Gironda, Joe Weider, and the formation of Muscle Beach. He addresses the history of homosexuality in bodybuilding. He finds the earliest reference to a low carb diet for weight loss. It's just downright stunning how much information that he managed to dig up.

It’s an interesting history and it deserved to be recorded. Randy Roach, so far, did and exceeded expectations. I can’t wait for volume 2.

No comments: