2 out of 4 stars
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Are you the head-down, eye-on-the-prize worker ant, or the playful, go-with-the-flow dolphin? By way of exploring his evolution as a marathon runner, author Sam Brand identifies three distinct personality types as they relate to key aspects of life. In his 2015 nonfiction book, Brand assigns the human population three animal archetypes: the human ant, the human chimpanzee, and the human dolphin. Dolphins Don’t Run Marathons: 26.2 loving thoughts on why you should not run a marathon reflects the author’s transformation from ant to dolphin, a shift that balances his life and saves him from a fate of early aging, isolation, heart disease, and even personality disorders.
“Human ants love stress; they enjoy it – but human dolphins don’t”(p184). Human ants are the seasoned marathon runners who push hard, often override their bodies, and get lost in the focus of their colony. Human chimpanzees don’t like sports but rather are the helpers and supporters who enjoy socializing. They are thought of as lazy by the hard-working ants. The human dolphins are wise and athletic, yet instinctively know how to balance work, play, sex, and exercise.
Brand succeeds in tying these aspects to human characteristics, and the metaphor works to explore his valid concerns about exercise addiction, a concept that is not explicitly identified but it is the primary theme of the book. “You better pace yourself before you kill yourself,” and “Ants never stop until they get run over. Better to be a dolphin. Dolphins move on,” are two of the chapter headings. There is quite a bit of exercise addiction research out there, and Sam Brand’s ant-inspired characteristics match the scholarly discussions about behaviors such as loss of perspective, overtraining, and perfectionism.
Dolphins Don’t Run Marathons earns points for creativity, but it does have some problems. The book appears to be fun and light, from the playful appearance of the cover illustrations, the use of animals, and the simplistic phrasing. One might even think it is geared toward children. In actuality, the concepts handled in the book are quite adult and difficult to view as playful. The text contains references to personality disorders, obsessive behaviors, and delusions. I understand the impulse to use playful metaphors, but the presentation of this book is a mismatch with the themes and content.
Brand’s journey will likely resonate with many, though it may offend an audience it hopes to reach: long-distance runners who are happily embedded in the ant archetype. While the ant-driven characteristics of unhealthy exercising are concerning and important to highlight, I wonder if some of the traits could be considered useful in proper doses, even necessary, for focus and motivation. The author tends to pathologize it all, leaving little room for ants in the equation of life. I think this is an oversight, as Brand largely touts the dolphin archetype as the only way.
I rate Dolphins Don’t Run Marathons 2 out of 4 stars, based on the creative metaphors and educational message. A higher rating is not possible due to the stylistic vs. thematic mismatch, uneven development of the animal archetypes, and number of editing errors (well over ten). I picked up the book because of my affinity for dolphins. I enjoyed seeing the author find the way of the dolphin by running shorter distances, playing in the water, doing yoga, having sex just for fun, being flexible, and smiling a lot. Despite the fact that long-distance runners could find important information in this book, they may be offended by it. Readers who prefer a lighter exploration of serious issues will appreciate Brand’s creative efforts.
Dolphins Don’t Run Marathons
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