5 Recommended Books for Healthy Summer Reading

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called “On Turning Pro” where I laid out my plan to make some changes in my mindset — this after the roughest six months of my life, when anxiety issues came (seemingly) out of nowhere to render me pretty darn useless.

Central to my plan: reading for one hour each day.

It’s the one habit I can identify that is most closely tied to my sense of well-being. My hope was that by making sure I absolutely stuck to it, other good habits would naturally form.

And I’ve actually done it! I’ve gone through busy periods where much of the daily hour has shifted to listening to books (easy during 100-miler training), but that’s acceptable, and I must say it’s worked pretty much as I hoped it would.

I’ve taken on a lot this year — finishing up writing my book, training for a 100, moving to a new house, and having a new baby (granted, my wife played a slightly larger role in that than I did) — and anxiety has really taken a back seat to it all. Gooooo, reading!

My Summer Reading Recommendations

Anyway … in this past month I decided to read five health and running books that had piled up on my to-read list. Many of them had been sent to me for review by publishers, and I had back-burnered them in favor of books that I personally wanted to read. (By the way, I’m trying to get back into updating my GoodReads account, so you can follow me on there if you’re into that sort of thing.)

But I decided to get through them, and to my surprise, I really liked every one of them! This usually doesn’t happen; I’m no stranger to abandoning a book midway through if I’m not enjoying it. But I was never even tempted with these.

Here’s a quick look at what I took from each of them, so you can decide if there’s room in your suitcase for one of them this summer. Oh yeah, and they’re not all brand new — some had been on my shelf since last year. I present them here in no particular order, except that the first one had the biggest immediate impact on me (perhaps not coincidentally, it was the only one I purchased myself).

[super immunity cover image]1. Super Immunity, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

I had heard of Joel Fuhrman before (my wife had read Disease Proof Your Child, and I’d seen him in Vegucated), but after a few conversations with Ray Cronise, I decided I ought to take the time to really understand what Fuhrman is teaching.

What I found in Super Immunity was an approach to nutrition that I’d long been waiting for — one that, while ultimately delivering the message “eat whole, plant foods,” underpinned the philosophy with science and logic that resonated with me better than others’ arguments.

The biggest takeaway, for me, is the idea that H = N/C (health equals nutrients over calories), which translates into the message that in order to live the longest, healthiest lives, we should seek to maximize nutrient intake while minimizing caloric intake (once meeting our basic energy needs, of course). This equation, of course, is Fuhrman’s main reason for advocating phytonutrient-dense plant foods over calorically-dense animal products.

Super Immunity is the book I wish my parents would read. No doubt, it’s strict, and it delivers news most people don’t want to hear: animal products, added salt, oils, caffeine, and alcohol are mostly bad — limit them to very small amounts in your diet. I know that many are turned off by anyone who so much as allows any animal products in a healthy diet, but I don’t mind it. Much the opposite, in fact — I eat 100% vegan, and partly for ethical reasons, but I think the lack of an ethical bent to a doctor’s teachings helps to build trust in otherwise skeptical readers.

Highly recommended. If you’re interested, check out my notes from Super Immunity.

[the longest race cover image]2. The Longest Race, by Ed Ayres

Ed Ayres is the founder of Running Times magazine, but The Longest Race isn’t a typical Rodale book (the publisher that owns Running Times and Runner’s World). In fact, it’s not a Rodale book at all — it’s published by The Experiment, an independent publisher, who, by the way, puts out a lot of good vegetarian and vegan stuff.

Ed tells his story against the backdrop of the JFK 50, a historic ultramarathon. But his attempt to set an age-group record at the race is merely a metaphor for what the book is really about: our “endurance” as a species on this planet. Though interspersed with running gems that only someone who has been at it for 50+ years could provide, the underlying theme is sustainability, and it’s well done. I admit that I’m not as in touch with environmental issues as I ought to be, and this book presented a nice (well, not nice) overview of the gravity of the situation.

Ed Ayres happens to be vegetarian — not surprising, considering his interest in environmentalism, but his diet is only mentioned in passing. Read this book to feel excited about running, in a way that reminded me of how I felt while reading Born to Run and Eat & Run, but you’ll take away a much bigger, more important message.

[whole cover image]3. Whole, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell

This is your big boy. While the other books on this list were fairly quick reads, Whole took me quite a bit longer, at close to 300 pages and with material that’s fairly dense. In it, China Study author T. Colin Campbell argues for a wholistic (means essentially the same as “holistic,” but avoids the woo-woo connotations) approach to nutrition, as opposed to the prevailing reductionist approach in which scientists focus on variables in isolation, and far too often miss the bigger picture.

Whole was not what I was expecting — I thought it would be a long, detailed argument about why whole foods are better for us than processed foods, manufactured “health” foods, and supplements. Instead, it’s a much deeper look first at scientific philosophy and later at the institutions (governmental, corporate, academic, and even charitable) whose survival and/or profitability depend on ensuring that the reductionist approach lives on.

Basically: nobody profits when the advice is “eat whole plant foods.” But there’s plenty of profit, promotions, and pats on the back when the way to treat illness is “take drug X, buy supplement Y, and have procedure Z done.” Campbell is fair in pointing out that most individuals in the so-called health industry do have our best interests at heart, but are part of a system that does not, and one that is very good at hiding it.

Yes, it’s kind of conspiracy theory, but I get the sense it’s very true, and so pervasive that most of us don’t even see it anymore. Which is scary and overwhelming, and there aren’t a lot of solutions — Campbell says that it starts with changing the way you eat, on an individual level. Beyond that? I suppose it’s up to us to figure it out.

[running with the kenyans cover image]4. Running with the Kenyans, by Adharanand Finn

On a much lighter note … this one’s about running, and a British reporter’s attempt to discover just what it is that makes the Kenyan’s so damn good at it.

Finn and his family go to live in Iten, Kenya, a town famous for producing some of the best runners in a country where everybody is a good runner. Among other “secrets,” Finn discovers that barefoot running, a childhood filled with running, altitude, and a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet based on the staple ugali are responsible for the Kenyan dominance of the sport.

I’m sure I won’t be the first to point out that Running with the Kenyans feels a little bit like Born to Run, with the whole “let’s find out what makes this mysterious, impoverished group of people so good at running” theme. But the two are different: while Born to Run might be described as thrilling at times, Running with the Kenyans is relaxed — at all times. The “secrets” really aren’t so secret, nor are they of the variety that we outsiders can easily apply to our running and see sudden, massive improvements — and I’m sure Finn would be the first to admit this. Indeed, one of the jokes in the book is about foreigners coming into Kenya looking for exactly those kind of quick-fix secrets.

But even without the excitement of Mexican drug cartels, I found this one to be a really pleasant read, part travel-writing and part running experiment. Of all the books in this post, the light Running with the Kenyans will fare the best for lazy afternoons on the beach.

[approach the natural cover image]5. Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto, by Sid Garza-Hillman

Finally, the quickest read of them all. At 128 pages, and easy-reading ones at that, Approaching the Natural is perhaps the book with which the most No Meat Athlete readers will find themselves nodding their heads along. And if you appreciate my dumb jokes, or at least don’t hate them enough to unsubscribe, then you’ll probably have the same tolerance for Sid Garza-Hillman‘s.

I think of this one as more a lifestyle handbook than a manifesto — it touches on everything from plant-based diet to minimalist running to grounding (new to me) to meditation to journaling to sending your buddies an occasional text to say, “What’s up, it’s been a while.” If you’ve been frustrated with strict diets or exercise programs in the past, you’ll like Sid’s alternative approach with very few absolute rules. I love Sid’s approach to habit change (mainly, start small and don’t worry about perfection, hence the idea in the title of “approaching” rather than attaining), making the whole thing seem very realistic … which, if it’s natural, it should be, right?

This could be another good beach read — though I bet it’s even better over coffee before the rest of the family wakes up to hit the beach (and Sid won’t kill you for the java habit; he’s a coffee fiend himself!) .

For more from Sid, check out his appearance on the Rich Roll podcast.

Alright, get reading! And don’t forget, come nerd out with me on GoodReads if you’re on there.



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  1. Vickie (Mom) says:

    I’d love to read Super Immunity! I think I’d find it very interesting and may end up incorporating some of what I learn into my daily routine. Bring your copy when you come to the beach 🙂

    • You got it, Mom! I’ll bring it. But you’ve got to finish it in the week because I’m taking it home with me b/c we’re going to do a week or two of his meal plans. I’ll buy you a copy if you don’t finish.

  2. A fine list.

    Have been digging into Dr. Furhman’s work lately myself. He was one of 8 people I profiled in a recent post of mine, “Is Meat Good For You? 8 Experts Chew On It, 4 Spit It Out”.

    Of course, he was one of the 4 who, in effect, “spit it out.”

    Given that I’m a health blogger of sorts, I spend lots of time digging into things in order to find out what’s true. Frankly, when people (scientists for instance) who know a lot more about a topic than I ever will can’t agree on something, like is meat good… well, it’s exasperating.

    What the leaves is one’s own experience. You must take the time and put in the effort to try different things, test and measure.

    Books like these suggest paths to tread in order to find out if something works for you.



  3. Love that you hold your books to the “beach on no beach” standard…yet, I believe the nearest beach is a few hours away from you. Could this be your sub-conscience telling you something?

    • Haha, yeah I guess that’s what going to the beach every summer of your life will do to you … but actually, I am going to go this year. It’s a 10-hour drive to the beach my family goes to, but we’ll be there for a week so it’s worth it.

  4. Just wanted to leave a very big THANK YOU not just for the great book suggestions, which I can’t wait to read, but for all the podcasts, blogs, interviews, recipes and advice on running that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly since I stumbled upon this site a few months ago looking for some vegan energy bar recipes. I never considered myself an athlete. My whole life I’ve been more of the artsy-fartsy type, and sports were what jocks did. But your blog was relatable and interesting and I’m happy to say I completed my first race ever last Sunday (a half marathon) with my fiance. I don’t think I would have had the guts without the advice and experiences I’ve read about. So thanks. Can’t wait to use the roadmap for my first marathon in the fall!

    • Hey Finny! Thank you. I love getting feedback like this — in fact I save it so I can read a bunch when I need some inspiration or to get over a fear of writing something. Congrats on your half marathon; that’s an amazing accomplishment and even better that you did with your fiance!

  5. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Love the recommendations! I
    m a fan of the China Study and I’ve heard Campbell lecture so I’ll be interested to read his other book. If I could make a humble suggestion to add : “running with the mind of Meditation.” I forgot the author. Also, as something unrelated to health and fitness but a quick read is my favorite book of all time: “The Prophet” by Kalil Gibran. Outside of health and fitness books I’m curious as to your favorite books/authors.
    Thnaks again Matt. happy summer!!!

    • Hey Jon! I think you’ll like Whole if you’re a fan of Campbell’s other stuff. And actually, I did read Running with the Mind of Meditation last summer when I was focusing on meditation a lot. I enjoyed it but for some reason had trouble getting myself to actually implement the advice … I think I need little action steps at the end of every chapter. 🙂 And thanks for suggesting the Prophet. Never heard of it but I’ll take a look.

      Outside of health and fitness (which I actually only read from time to time), my favorite authors are Seth Godin, Douglas Hofstadter, Richard Dawkins, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Tim Ferriss. Those are the few people who I will read just about anything new that they write.

  6. awesome!! I have a lot of these on my list, just as soon as I finish Run Faster and working through my new training plan. Thanks for the reminder on these! I finished Eat & Run just a few weeks ago and really enjoyed getting inspired by Jurek’s life then started listening to Wild which suddenly made me want to take up hiking or at least not complain about any of my runs 🙂

  7. Kristen says:

    Oh my. Going to get a break at the beach (if you can call being outnumbered by children a break) for a week, and now I have to decide which book to read. “Whole” sounds wonderful, but maybe “Approaching” is more beach and hopeful relaxing vacation speed. Thank you for the great recommendations. It would be great if “Whole” was downloadable. I could “read” it while running.

  8. I mostly read fiction, but your two reasons for reading a little every day (in your e-mail) are the most honest and succinct reasons I can think of for making reading a habit worth passing on to the next generation. And I thank you for the recommendations, sometimes a dose of non-fiction can change everything.
    I come to your site as a long-time vegetarian who was never an athlete, but I’m ready for a mid-life challenge. Hoping to run my first half-marathon in October. Your positivity is really helping me along the way. So thanks.

  9. Thanks for sharing. I am always grateful when I found book recommendations. I’ve only read “Approaching the natural” but I liked it and I am sure I will like the others as well.

    Running with the Kenyans will be the next book I’ll buy. I love Born to Run, more for the overall story, not the hidden secrets 🙂

  10. Thanks for the reviews Matt. I set aside time every day to read and learn too. Lately it has been blog posts – BTW keep up the good work, I love what you do – but this has inspired me to head to the library next week.

    I really enjoyed Fuhrman’s earlier work: Eat To Live. His new book seems like another good read.

  11. Matt,
    Thanks for putting Super Immunity first on your list!
    After over twenty years experimenting with various vegan diets, and now following Dr. Fuhrman since the beginning of this year, I believe he is best of the best when it comes to nutrition. It takes a rather large mental adjustment, even for someone who is already vegan, but it is so worth it!
    Thanks again!

  12. Thanks, Matt! Can’t wait to read Super Immunity. Fuhrman is largely responsible for my veganism and your blog is responsible for my current running (and now triathlon) habit! I’d gotten a little out of shape after having seven kids, but MS symptoms kept me from really getting back into challenging exercise. After the vegan diet pretty much cleared up my health, I was motivated to jump back in and NoMeatAthlete inspired me to give running another chance. Now, at 34, I feel like I’m in some of the best shape of my life. I’m grateful to you for sharing your passion.

  13. The Longest Race sounds very interesting! Officially added to my summer reading list — I’m currently reading Cooked by Michael Pollan.

  14. Thanks for sharing this awesome list. I have been trying to read more too. I’ve been loving up the library near my place. Maybe some of these will give me the motivation to do a full marathon.

  15. thanks for sharing such a great stuff.
    a really like the recommendations of the books by you and have added two of them in my reading list for the season

  16. Great stuff Matt! Just finished “Whole” myselve, great addition to China Study. I’ll definitely try to get my hands on the others. I mainly read non fiction nowadays, not because I do not love fiction but the last couple of years I’m been totally into nutrition and especially a whole foods, plant based (strictly vegan) “diet”. Which I get more and more convinced is the best diet for, well humans, athletes and non athletes alike!

    Lets all get nerdy and share them books!

  17. Great suggestions, and wonderful idea for reducing anxiety. I find myself that it doesn’t have to be a book that you take an hour for…gardening, taking a bath, or really doing anything for yourself for a solid hour will do the trick. But I’ll definitely be checking out your recommendations. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I loved the Longest Race and Running with the Kenyans. You might also like this http://herbifit.com/2012/10/23/run-wild-boff-whalley/ It is a book about the joys of trail running. I also love Feet in the Clouds which might give you an insight into British Fell Running. I always find the comparision between American and British Runners and Vegans fascinating 🙂
    Great list.

  19. Melissa G says:

    Thanks for the awesome list! I just started “Approaching the Natural,” and I already love it (just a few pages in). The Longest Race and Running with the Kenyans are next in line for me.

  20. Great post.

  21. Mariah Lawrence says:

    Matt, I love your stuff and recommend it regularly to anyone interesting in knowing more. Can you help me find a really great book my daughter (11) could read to understand why we have chosen to be vegan a couple years ago. She reads at an adult level and has the understanding compacity as well. She loved forks over knives. But needs more information and encouragement. My husband and I get our bits of encouragement and additional info from various places on the internet, and that’s not a place I set her loose in. She LOVES books so looking to find a great read for her. What would you recommend that could help her understand the many faucets of this lifestyle?

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